FALLING down stairs, walking into walls and stumbling into traffic are not the preserve of drunks - anyone with a smartphone can achieve this, and more.

If you've glanced up from your own phone long enough, you'll notice that screen zombies are on the march.

They're taking over our streets - what is so important it can't wait until you cross the road? - and breeding in bedrooms once occupied by children who could hold eye contact and utter full sentences.

So worried are the Dutch about screen zombies that one town is trialling LED traffic lights which run along the footpath edge so pedestrians glued to phones won't get mowed down.

No need to look up, just let your peripheral vision tell you if lights are green and stagger forth.

Seriously, can we not help ourselves?

In Australia, pedestrian deaths are on the rise, prompting the Pedestrian Council to call for $200 on-the-spot fines for "text walking".


University of Queensland researchers have studied the movements of these strange creatures known as "wexters", and found they were robot-like and conducive to toppling over.

As doctors continue to warn about arthritic thumbs from swiping and poor vision from repetitive eye strain, you have to wonder what's next. Tucking children into bed with back braces to straighten their spines and stave off screen stoop?

Don't laugh. In May this year Australian physiotherapists reported treating kids as young as six for "text neck syndrome". Cue hunched backs, chronic headaches, osteoarthritis and reduced mobility.

Yet our love affair with phones is flourishing.

Last year, 45 per cent of smartphone owners over age 14 told Roy Morgan Research they "can't live without" their device.

I'm surprised the proportion isn't higher. Witness the number of commuters who have buds wedged into their ears, or shoppers who yabber on their phones instead of acknowledging check-out operators.

Smartphones can be useful - for news, directions, banking and tasks we've yet to assign to them - but indispensable?

Are we relinquishing our humanness?

Why would I look at the world when my phone shows me everything I need to see?
Why would I look at the world when my phone shows me everything I need to see?

New research from the University of Virginia suggests smartphone dependency has consequences beyond the physical. It is eroding societal trust.

People are turning to their phones, not fellow humans, for help.

Rather than stop to ask someone for directions, for example, we use our phone and, in the process, deny ourselves those spontaneous friendly interactions that build cohesive communities.

Researchers Kostadin Kushlev and Jason Proulx analysed data from the World Values Survey against how often people obtained information from mainstream media, the internet, mobile phones and other people.

The more they used their phones, the less they trusted strangers. They also felt less trust in their neighbours and people from other religions and nationalities.

The opposite was true for other sources of information, such as newspapers, TV and radio, with trust levels increasing.

"Casual social interactions even with strangers can be surprisingly enjoyable, and a powerful tool in building a sense of belonging," says Kushlev.

"Economists refer to these impalpable links as social capital. When trust between people in a country goes up, so does economic growth. At the individual level, people who trust others more also tend to have better health and higher wellbeing."

Writing in The Conversation, he said the research did not determine why phones were so damaging to societal trust, but pointed to a vicious circle.

"As the wider public increasingly relies on smartphones for information, we might be missing opportunities to cultivate a sense of trust; then because we trust others less, we might rely on our smartphones more."

The solution?

Moderation would seem logical, but then that would require common sense, something wexters have in short supply.

Law makers in the US have tried numerous times to legislate against text walking. Mostly recently, Hawaii introduced a bill that would fine people $250 for crossing the road while holding an electronic device.

China and Belgium, meanwhile, have walking lanes specifically for people using phones. Good luck getting from A to B unharmed among that cluster of zombies.

In Australia, there are no laws around wexting, but it is an offence to cross a street when the pedestrian light is red. Like so many indiscretions, though, this is virtually impossible to police.

Last year, 165 pedestrians died on our roads and every year around 3500 are seriously injured. Inattentiveness is a contributor. The cost of these accidents to the national economy is estimated to be more than $1 billion annually, and then there's the emotional toll on families.

Given what we know, wouldn't it be easier, smarter and less intrusive for smartphone users to self-regulate?

No doubt someone will invent an app for that before too long.


Kylie Lang is an associate editor of The Courier-Mail.


Do you think we're too glued to our phones?

This poll ended on 14 July 2017.

Current Results

Yes - people are like zombies!


No, they're a necessity now


Not me - I only use my phone to make calls


This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

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