Now that the horror of "distracted driving" has been brought thoroughly to light, the subject of much public handwringing, a flurry of state legislation, and a 347-part series in the Times, it is time to turn our collective attention to a related and equally heinous societal scourge: distracted walking.
Distracted walking may not seem quite so serious, as civilizational crises go, but consider this: If one more person stumbles into me on the sidewalk because they can't be bothered to look up from their stupid iPhone, I will have to kill them. I might then go to prison, which would be terrible for me.
The time to act, therefore, is now.
Admittedly, there have always been people who don't look where they're going. But just as our glorious digital age has transformed the ancient arts of stalking, credit card fraud, and privacy invasion, so has it revolutionized the means of obnoxious self absorption. No more does the would-be distracted walker require a book or an interesting thought to keep his eyes from the path ahead; now he's got his whole contact list, not to mention the whole Internet, to keep his head bowed and his body traveling in arbitrary directions like a human bumper car.
You're trying to walk down the street, he's tweeting, currency trading, watching last night's Idol -- whatever.
But if the digital age has created the problem, so too has it provided the elegant solution. You've heard that the internet has seriously, probably fatally, damaged print media. Newspapers, suffering from some deep self-loathing, run stories about the Death of the newspaper pretty much every day.
We can, therefore, kill two digital-age birds with one analog stone. Tomorrow, instead of checking the online headlines on your way out the door, buy the actual printed paper, at the newsstand, just like grandpa used to do. Then, roll it up and carry it under your arm. And when some twittering galoot busy with a handheld whatever is about to crash into you, whack him over the head with the rolled-up newspaper!
I'm totally serious about this.
Let it be passed into law, let it be shouted from the rooftops, let it be blogged and posted and comment-threaded through the very soul of society: if somebody bumps or is about to bump into you on the street because they are consumed with their portable device, it is now perfectly acceptable (and, if and when Congress gathers the courage, mandatory) to whack that person over the head with a rolled-up newspaper.
You may be wondering whether I have personally tried out this brilliant act of mildly violent social protest. Not yet. The thing is, I'm not familiar with all the available "apps", and for all I know there's one for tasing someone who hits you with a rolled-up newspaper.
But, for God's sake, don't let my cravenness stop you! Let the rolled-up newspaper revolution commence!
Change begins with us!
By which I mean, you.
Follow Ben H. Winters on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BenHWinters