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MLab Introduce Text Walking Lanes in Antwerp

We've all been there, you're walking down the street, engrossed in a particularly entertaining Facebook rant courtesy of one of the more unhinged people on your friends list. You're walking along, reading their latest theory on how all hairdressers are in the employ of the government because hair are aerials which pick up signals from the cosmos and transmit directly to your brain when wham. You walk straight into a lamp post with one of those gum boards on it and have to spend the next half-hour picking week-old Hubba-Bubba out of your eyebrows. Or maybe that's just me.

All joking aside, smartphones do tend to make high-streets a slightly riskier place to be. Far be it for people to simply wait until they find somewhere to sit down (or even just stand still) to check how their latest tweet is faring, many exemplars of the modern age can be seen walking down the street with their eyes completely transfixed by their phone screens. They're either relying on blind luck to keep them from walking into heavy traffic and getting pancaked by a Hummer H2 or they simply haven't thought long enough about it to realise how stupid they're being.

It's difficult to think of a reason why anyone should do anything about this, as such. I mean sure, it should be common practice to educate children on the art of 'looking where you're going' (in fact, I'm pretty sure it usually is), but adults? They should know better anyway and if some particularly avid, exceptionally thick Instagram user falls down an open manhole whilst trying to take a slow-motion vid of their new shoes in action, so be it, the world just got one idiot lighter. Nevertheless, the good people of Antwerp have developed a solution.

Along some of the Belgian city's busiest shopping lanes, specially marked 'text walking lanes' have been marked out so that the more smartphone-tethered citizens can safely roam the streets without causing harm to themselves or anyone around them. That's assuming they make use of their peripheral vision enough to notice the street markings in the first place.

It's worth bearing in mind that the scheme is actually a part of an ad campaign for MLab, a local mobile company, but it's far from an isolated example. As part of their Mind Over Masses TV show, National Geographic marked out 'no cellphone' and 'cellphone: walk at your own risk' lanes in parts of Washington DC and a similar lane system (moving in both directions) was also introduced in the hulking Chinese metropolis of Chongqing, in that case done by legitimate city officials.

Other measures to remedy the issue include apps like CrashAlert and Type n Walk. The former uses the camera to scan and alert users to potential obstacles whilst the latter actually has the camera feed running so you can literally see through your phone as you type. Audio Aware goes one further by tackling the headphones issue, listening out for sounds which indicate a potential risk before interrupting whatever Taylor Swift track you might be listening to in order to warn you of the ensuing danger. With survey reports suggesting that 'distracted walking' incidents are on the up, these kinds of apps might well soon start becoming standard issue with mobile devices.

As amusing as it is to watch someone blundering into a letterbox on YouTube, distracted walking carries a very real risk of serious injury. A collision with a lamp post or some other street-side object could lead to a broken nose or a fractured cheekbone and unseen precipices or heavy traffic can lead to even worse incidents. In 2013 a woman was walking down a street in Birmingham, happily tapping away on her phone before she plunged into a canal. Luckily someone was around to jump in after her, otherwise the story might have had a very different ending. Some cities (New York in particular) have actually employed stricter traffic regulations because of this very issue.

The trouble is that smartphone technology is touted as being 'mobile' when in reality it's not. Concentrating on any app which requires visual input requires you to stop somewhere safe to look at it properly, but people simply don't. Distracted walking is only the tip of the iceberg, traffic accidents caused by people using phones while driving are rising every year and increased smartphone functionality is only making it worse. As silly as the idea of 'text walking lanes' might seem, it's a step in the right direction. Sorry for the awful pun.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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MLab Introduce Text Walking Lanes in Antwerp Reviewed by Unknown on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 Rating: 5

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