Distracted smartphone 'addicts' at greater risk of mishaps

TOKYO —

One evening while out for a walk with her child, writer Maki Yamane found herself approaching a man in his 20s from the opposite direction, his face buried in the screen of his smartphone. The sidewalk had narrowed down to a bottleneck, and unless he yielded or turned sideways, Yamane was left with a choice of colliding with a wall on her right, or a parked car on her left. She and her child were obliged to hug the wall as he strode past without glancing up.

“Say! Watch it with that damn phone, willya!” she shouted at his back.

“Oh, excuse me,” he muttered, not even bothering to look up from the Twitter message he appeared to be composing.

The above incident inspired Yamane to pen a Sunday Mainichi (March 3) article titled “We can’t take it any more! Eradicate the smartphone idiots who cause offense with their entire bodies while they walk.”

“I wonder if it’s necessary to spend so much time looking at them,” Masakazu Kobayashi, a research fellow at KDDI, remarked. “People unable to avert their eyes are borderline addicts.”

And indeed, such public nuisances appear to be on the increase.

Katsumi Tokuda, a professor at Tsukuba University medical school, conducted a survey of 300 people in January. The survey compiled cases in which the respondents said they had experienced collisions with smartphone users on station platforms or steps.

One of the most frequent type, so-called “mixed accidents,” involve people who utilize more than one device simultaneously, such as those who listen to iPods while operating their smartphones, while crossing the street against the traffic light.

“Smartphones can handle larger amounts of data than do regular cell phones, so users devote more time to looking at them, and use them for longer durations,” observes Tokuda. “Users will suddenly stop whatever they’re doing while operating. Under such circumstances, it’s natural for collisions to occur.”

Tokuda’s survey found that phone owners used their devices to access visual data 83% of the time, as opposed to 11% for voice communications.

“Visually handicapped people tend to compensate by becoming more sensitive to sounds,” observes Takao Yanagihara, a lecturer at Kinki University Faculty of Engineering. “But people with normal vision who gaze at their smart phones while walking are not receptive to sounds. And by simply screening out visual data, it’s extremely dangerous.”

To be clear, the article is not referring to people who glance at their phone screen to check arrival of incoming mails, but those who feel the urge to access them constantly—whether walking or cycling or even, yes, driving their cars.

“Many smartphone addicts are actually SNS addicts,” says Kobayashi. An Internet survey of 556 people between the ages of 25 to 59 conducted last summer by Mobile Marketing Data Labo found that about 40% of respondents said they periodically accessed an SNS via their smartphones. Broken down by age segment, it’s apparent that usage by younger people is particularly heavy: 52.7% in their 20s and 42.2% in their 30s gave positive replies, as opposed to 37.8% in their 40s and 26.5% in their 50s.

“SNS users crave a ‘Like’ response to their posts, which makes them feel happy to be acknowledged by others,” says Kobayashi. “So they post photos and videos one after the next, along with their personal information, in ways that invite addiction.”

Tokuda has no suggestions for those who wish to cut down on usage.

“Short of incorporating a function into the phones that detects vibrations to prevent phone use while walking, there’s probably no easy way to quit,” he winces.

Kobayashi recommends that people deal with their smartphone addiction objectively.

“People should take a moment to consider how they appear before others, hunched over their lunches, alone, while they fiddle with their smartphones, and ask themselves if it’s come to the point that an instantaneous response is really needed for people to conduct relationships,” he says.

  • 3

    Kimokekahuna Hawaii

    This is nothing compared to what happens when people text and drive. People are indeed using cellphones to connect and find happiness in things like Instagram "likes". It is sad thing as people detach from society while engaging in social media. It is time for social media to become social.. it is time for advertisers to not only use mobile devices as a way to reach and influence consumers.. but to actually be a medium for sharing knowledge, connecting people to other people not just their devices.. helping people be more informed, healthy, happy not detached and more cold in a society that looks down not up.

  • 1

    oikawa

    I will never get a smartphone. The ultimate in brainwashed consumerism for otherwise intelligent people. We don't need them. Simple.

  • 16

    Harry_Gatto

    One of the advantages of being a big scary gaijin is that you can just let these idiots walk into you and bounce off again, even sometimes dropping their 'phones, in the hope that they will have learnt a lesson.

  • 6

    Virtuoso

    It has become extremely important for Japanese to play at ignoring the existence of others in their midst. Their crawling into their hand-held games, music players and smart phones are all manifestations of the same basic urge. It's hardly surprising that their birth rate has been plummeting as it's plain they can't stand the sight of each other.

  • 11

    smithinjapan

    Hate to break this to the haters, but it's not just 'smartphones', people have been doing this in Japan in particular with cellphones since texting became available. Hell, I see people playing PSPs or DSs while riding bicycles! I also see the odd old codger or middle-aged adult (or in some cases, students) walking while reading books.

    Stop blaming it on the technology and trying to coin new phrases so people will frown on it -- the problem is with the people, not the tech.

  • 3

    Xeno23

    It's well established that phone use "multitasking" is almost exactly like being drunk, DUI drunk, whether driving or walking. It's also been established that hands-free isn't much better. As for texting while driving... I don't even get how you do that.

    Smartphones are just the latest, most extreme example of something we've been increasingly doing for a long time: totally not paying attention. Before cell phones, it was people reading books & newspapers while driving, or doing their makeup, or eating breakfast. Then it was Walkmans and iPods and Nintendos. With smartphones, there's just so much more to occupy our attention that totally not paying attention is even more extreme than before. It's human nature, of course, but this technology is an enabler of astounding dimensions.

    Just wait until we have Google Glass and other Augmented Reality; just wait until we have implanted communication - you ain't seen nothing yet.

  • 0

    Virtuoso

    Just wait until we have Google Glass and other Augmented Reality; just wait until we have implanted communication - you ain't seen nothing yet.

    As the old Long Ranger joke goes, "What do you mean 'we,' Kimosabee?" I can't see any value in paying a single yen for these odious toys. In fact, I wouldn't own one if you paid me.

  • 3

    concentratedsin

    i never walk and look at my phone. if i do need to look at my phone i move to the side of the street where i'm not in any ones way until i'm finished, then i keep walking. if you can't walk without looking at your phone you have a real problem.

  • 1

    smithinjapan

    Virtuoso: "I can't see any value in paying a single yen for these odious toys. In fact, I wouldn't own one if you paid me."

    Total respect for that -- though in the future you'll need one like it or not. And still, as Xeno and I touched on, 'addiction' and 'distraction' are in no way limited to 'smartphone' use. I mean, just think about the fact that in cars they have television you can watch WHILE you drive!! They put a stop to it in a lot of navigation systems, wherein while your foot is on the pedal it switches to the navigation maps (also a distraction, though less than an intense Hanshin Tigers vs. Giants game!), but I have seen newer models that allow you once again to keep the TV on while driving (not just audio). Once again, it's not limited to smartphones.

  • 2

    flammenwerfer

    I will never get a smartphone. The ultimate in brainwashed consumerism for otherwise intelligent people. We don't need them. Simple.

    why stop there? don't be hypocritical towards technology - why are you here, on the internet using computer, you don't need it, no sir, a smartphone is a small computer, you are using a big one - it's a computer ergo YOU don't need it, or a regular phone either, a TV, A playstation, a DVD player, an aircon, a car, aeroplanes. None of these.... Exactly who are you, to decree, to tell people what we need and don't need?

    Personally, I enjoy having access to the sum total of all human knowledge in my pocket and a camera and a dictionary, and anki card reader and book and a newspaper, a podcast player....

  • 1

    oikawa

    It's not hypocritical. You miss the point in exactly what you said in your post. We already have what smartphones offer. It has nothing to do with technology. That's another thing that's fooled you. And don't be so silly as you say other people can't have opinions. What do you think this board is for?

  • 3

    lucabrasi

    Mother Nature is weeding out the nerds....

  • 4

    wanderlust

    Waiting at the traffic lights the other day, watched a dozen people cross the road, more than half of them were engrossed in a phone of some sort at the end of their arm; blissfully ignorant of the traffic, cycles, other people, the world around them. How many years will it be before they are hard wired into us?

  • 3

    TokyoGas

    Today I was cycling along the Tamagawa and sure enough there were plenty of people talking or texting while riding.

  • 1

    Elbuda Mexicano

    Smith has a point, not only "smartphones" for dummies but you gotta be crazy to ride on your bike, be texting to FB, Twitter or here to JT and listening to your Ipod, while as I said, whizzing in and out of traffic, OH don't mind that RED LIGHT, just cruise right on by while kindgertners who are lucky enough to be pulled out of your path will be saved from being mowed down like big eyed puppies standing in for pins at a bowling alley, right? By the way, I see this kind of crap if not every day but every week here in TOKYO, JAPAN!! So much for "Safety Japan!!"

  • 1

    skroknog

    If a guy feels the need to do something walking down the street he should stick to pocket billards. That way, at least he'll have a smile on his face.

  • 1

    Shan Wong

    It's not so much the amount of usage but when and where they use it. Riding a bike? Probably not the best time. Waiting for your food to come in a restaurant? Sure, why not.

  • 4

    TakahiroDomingo

    they are called "fon-biis" (phonetic pronunciation)

    origen of "fon-biis" : phone zombies or fxxking phone zombies

  • 2

    Kabukilover

    The problem is that a lot of stupid people use smart phones in public.

    My favorite examples ride their bicycles through my favorite arcade when bicycle riding is forbidden while texting. There are signs showing cartoons of frowning people and bicycles with red lines draw through them and bold faced imperatives with exclamation marks saying bike riding is not allowed. Does this stop the cycling texters. No.

    You can always tell a texter on the highway: In the fast lane and weaving.

    Then there are the texters at work.

  • 6

    Patricia Yarrow

    What about when you are talking to someone and they keep "disappearing" from the conversation to look at god knows what on their phone?

  • 2

    Hunter Brumfield

    I do have to wonder what was distracting the driver who smacked into the back of our car this week and caused 500,000 yen in damage. We were stopped at a red light and there was no question who was at fault.

    He then drove off, leaving us with the repair bill.

    So much for honesty in some Japanese folks today. (Which makes us sure he was trying to hide something, like texting, fiddling with his navigation system, etc. etc.)

  • 3

    jaspervm

    Perhaps most people no longer consider themselves to be active members of society who feel valued and respected. The average person operates in a personal microcosm that is virtually disconnected from a larger community that is simply an unpleasant environment devoid of personal stimuli. For people to be easily preoccupied by convenient technologies is maybe a clear indication of their general lack of attachment to local communities. Individual self-interest is the primary motivator for most people, so the idea of participating in community based activities, or discussions is unappealing.

    However, we do live in local communities that are based on interdependent needs and services, so we have to maintain a regular interest in the quality and status of our communities. To be so increasingly disengaged from our communities does not bode well for the future of our societies, which thrive on empathic interaction between its members. For me, it is really disheartening to see so many people in my neighborhood who are decidedly apathetic about communal responsibility, yet take for granted its benefits. Being psychologically and emotionally glued to a television, computer, or smartphone won't develop the real social skills that are vital for our continued existence as community based creatures who require face-to-face empathy for real meaningfulness and true happiness.

    At any time, when we enter the public space, we are all responsible for its overall quality, safety, cleanliness and freedom. These are benefits that can't be taken for granted, if we want them to be sustained. To act imperious when we go into the public space and act as if other people should be responsible, so we can be engrossed in our self-centered interests, will lead us towards a society that can be manipulated and ruled easily by cynical bullies and thugs. If people can so carelessly abdicate their communal responsibilities, then they shouldn't fein to be insulted when their communal rights have disappeared.

  • -3

    kurisupisu

    @Hunter Brumfield

    I do assume your post was a bit of hyperbole to prove your point?

  • 3

    maitai62

    Perhaps they should string a cable at neck level with signs warning of no smartphone use while walking/riding across problem corridors. People paying attention can duck under, but those not will get clothes lined and learn their lesson.

  • 3

    megosaa

    i hate that too! makes you wonder why they make smartphones... for idiots like that!! my husband would just ignore and walk straight into them if he sees some idiots like that, with their heads buried into their gadgets! once i tried and stuck out my 36D chest and the guy that knowcked it got so embarrassed he quickly put his phone away.

  • 1

    IparryU

    I have had more accidents with people staring at their feet whilst they walk more than people with staring at their bunny ear case smartphones... It seems to be a common habit in Japan to no look too far from your toes when you walk.

  • 0

    AKBfan

    @Hunter Brumfield

    The article itself was prettty lame but this post of yours rings even less true...

  • 0

    Elbuda Mexicano

    AKB, stupid accidents do happen, one of my students was hit like this in Hachioji! The J dude said he was a yakuza, gave her 5,000 yen and told her to never call the cops!

  • -1

    HonestDictator

    Great comment Smith. Too true that if someone is constantly addicted to doing anything that distracts them from the daily grind and paying attention to their surroundings then they're going to harm either themselves or others due to their lack of awareness.

  • 0

    Fadamor

    I will never get a smartphone. The ultimate in brainwashed consumerism for otherwise intelligent people. We don't need them. Simple.

    I went for the longest time without a smartphone. Then when my flip phone finally bit the dust I bought a droid. I have to agree with the article that the main culprit for the kinds of activity described are the SNS providers and texting (which was a problem even BEFORE smartphones). Even though I've had a smartphone for over two years, now, I don't do SNS and rarely text. So the problem is not the smartphone, it's what you do with it. I do a lot with my smartphone besides phone calls - but what I do DOESN'T require constant monitoring while walking down the sidewalk.

  • -2

    afanofjapan

    Ever since that article a while back about what to do when a loony comes out with a knife on the street, i have started paying more attention to my surroundings, and also noticing this 'smartphone hunch' more and more.

    While i am borderline addict on my phone, i dont let it interfere with my spatial awareness. Thats why i am looking forward to Google Glass; which is designed to stop phone tech from disrupting your real world.

  • 1

    Tahoochi

    These 'Addicts' might as well be walking around in blindfolds!

  • 1

    gmann

    didnt need the article. just the title would have been sufficient. distracted? ya think? idiots. the only thing smart about a smart phone is nothing. People look like such idiots with their faces plastered to their phones and visa versa. Like they are so important. We need more trains in America so more people would walk in front of them while distracted.

  • 1

    ThonTaddeo

    An additional problem is how these "distract-ees" will unconsciously walk in just the right position so that there's a foot or so of empty space between them and the curb or the nearest wall. Not enough space for someone else to pass by them, but certainly enough to give them a small buffer so that they don't bump into anything inadvertently.

    This effectively means that here in some of the world's most crowded cities, one segment of the population is walking around not paying attention to their surroundings and taking up several times as much space as they should.

    Rule number one when moving around in public is to look where you're going. I've often thought that people who refuse to do that should automatically be the guilty party in any collision. I don't care if it's a 9-year-old child or 90-year-old lady bumping into a sumo wrestler; if you're looking down at your phone and you bump into someone, it's your fault.

  • 1

    Bunty Kumar

    The dangers of smartphone addiction are fairly well-known.

    So, is providing smartphone users around the world with the opportunity to bring awareness to the problem by turning off technology for five hours during International Moodoff Day on last Sunday February. This year's slogan is "Smart hours for Smart people without smartphones".

    “Why is it called Moodoff Day?”, “Because when we ask somebody to stop browsing for a minute their entire mood is off. People discuss smartphone addiction, but the true message is getting lost in all the discussion.”

    Moodoff Day is asking smartphone users around the globe to stop using their devices for five hours on the last Sunday of February. Participants are asked to enjoy a morning without technology and to have breakfast and reconnect with family or friends face-to-face in real time rather than to browse on their smartphones.

    The Moodoff Day celebrate smartphone addiction awareness day by eliminating your smartphone, iPhone, Computer tablet, Facebook, Twitter, and so on for five hours. So, why five hours? It is simply because four hours is not enough and six hours is very impossible to attain. Turning off your mobile devices for about 5 hours won't kill you. This really is just the way to let you aware on how you become so dependent in intelligent telephone as well as other latest technologies accessible.

    It's simple, A morning without technology once in a year.

  • 1

    Surf O'Holic

    jasper,

    " a personal microcosm that is virtually disconnected from a larger community that is simply an unpleasant environment devoid of personal stimuli."

    That's a good summary. Instead of staring off into space or avoiding eye contact in public, crowded places, people bury themselves in their devices(or books / newspapers). Nothing new, really, but the technology. It's just ubiquitous now.

  • -1

    technosphere

    I own a smartphone, dash board cam, a few GPS navigators and other useful portable technical devices. But I use them only when it nesessary. Never "buried my face into a screen of smartphone" while walking on street. Because it would be looking out stupidly for any possible spectator..

  • 0

    Jun Itabashi

    These Sumaho creeps pop up everywhere . I am a wheelchair bound person and became fed up of shouting " Sumimassen " at these geeks. Now I just let them hit my foot stand or nearly fall over me and then give them a piece of my mind in the loudest voice I can . They're mine. So to speak. Inside malls, hub stations like Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Tokyo station... The sleep walkers pop out of their comfy zones to bug others with a lot more common sense than them. Not even talking about mama-Chari mothers texting while on the move hauling their over grown brats. I won't bulge anymore...

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