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Watch how you walk!

Television viewers in the 80’s will recognize the iconic phrase from the show Hill Street Blues.  Those were always the final words to the police shift’s roll call.

Now it’s a call also being made to people on the streets.

A report released this week by the Associated Press notes a spike in pedestrian deaths in 2016.  As to why, “researchers say they think the biggest factor may be more drivers and walkers distracted by cellphones and other electronic devices.”  Because the increase in cellphone use far outpaces the uptick in steps walked or miles driven, they say that that change in behavior has to be the culprit.  But they also admit “that’s hard to confirm.”

Those who study the phenomenon have labeled it “inattentional blindness.”  They say that trying to combine walking and watching has the effect of slowing pedestrians down and/or causing them to veer off course – sometimes straight into oncoming traffic.  It seems the idiom for clumsiness (“he can’t walk and chew gum”) has morphed into a diagnosis of danger.

Folks north of the U.S. border have considered instituting a ban on distracted walking.  Elsewhere local governments have taken to posting warning signs – though one wonders who would see them if people are looking down at their phones.

Closer to home, city officials in Philadelphia have long thought that public service announcements would do the trick.  Assuming you walk onto a bus instead of into it, a sign sends the message:

Seeing that there really is no cure for original sin, human distractedness is not likely to be eradicated by signs or laws.  Paying attention to environmental surroundings, not to mention actual people in our midst, is something one must choose to do.  Today the intentionality of that choice looms larger as the distracting devices grow smaller.

It’s different data, but further evidence of the need to cultivate real personal encounters that Pope Francis called for in his first message for World Communications Day.  In spiritual terms, it’s a reminder that we all need to look up!

featured image from www.livinginindy.com

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