You've probably by now seen the video clip of the woman walking into a fountain at a shopping mall while texting on her handset (no link here because I have reason to believe that the video was illicitly and perhaps illegally released, violating the woman's privacy, but that's another matter); it's actually pretty funny. This one has been all over the TV news, along with other more serious stories about various legislative efforts to criminalize (via a fine) walking or biking (and perhaps other outdoor activities) while distracted by a handset, music player, or similar device. This looks to me like little more than another effort by cash-strapped municipalities to raise revenue, wrapped up in this-is-for-your-own-good paternalism. I think this is an absolutely idiotic idea, although at first blush it's not that different from bans on talking or texting while driving, which I wholeheartedly support. After all, both involve simple common sense, don't they?
Indeed they do -- but there's big difference. The operator of a motor vehicle has a fundamental responsibility to those around them to above all else do no harm, and the law should enforce this principle in spades. But someone walking while texting, talking, or listening to music is in far greater danger of harming themselves as a result of inattention to their surroundings, with relatively little damage potential with respect to others. Of course, anyone causing harm to the person or property of another, no matter the circumstances, should be forced to pay up. But causing harm to oneself due to stupidity? Should that be a crime?
It boggles my mind to see bikers racing through traffic while listening to an iPod (it's hard to imagine them texting, although I do suppose many also attempt to hold a phone conversation), and I personally consider it rude to walk along city streets while doing the same. Being unaware of what's going on nearby while out and about indeed seems counter to common sense. And if one of these people should be injured or killed while so doing, as thousands are every year, well, the knowledge is there, and should someone choose not to avail themselves of this knowledge, well, we have another tragic example for those of us who do -- and, hopefully, the next generation. Just because technology enables us to <insert any given activity here> doesn't mean we should.
But is such behavior criminal? No way -- and the government should get back to work on the numerous real problems we pay them the big bucks to address. And it is regardless my hope that anyone out in public will put their personal safety, and especially that of those around them, above all other considerations.
This story, "Distracted Walking: Should it be a Crime?" was originally published by Network World.