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.