Texting – or checking social media or watching a video – while walking causes people to walk in a special movement pattern that protects them from accidents, according to a new study.
People who look at their phones while they walk subconsciously "shorten their step length, reduce step frequency, lengthen the time during which both feet are in contact with the ground and increase obstacle clearance height," say researchers, effectively modifying their gait in order to compensate for the distraction.
By adopting this new walking behavior, texting walkers protect themselves from falling down or walking into other people or objects in their environment.
Researchers at the universities of Bath and Texas asked thirty participants, all between 18 and 50 years old, to walk around a specially designed obstacle course while attempting to text. The researchers then noted how they altered their movement to cope with the reduced focus and vision.
They found that those who were texting took longer to complete the course, because of their adapted gait.
Last year, a team of researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia found that smartphone use while walking makes people more likely to dawdle, weave, and possibly lose their balance.
Apart from walking funny, researchers say, texting while walking forces the body into a hunched position which can lead to poor posture and balance. In addition, the distractions can make walking around dangerous.
Earlier this summer, Utah Valley University unveiled a texting stairway lane on its Student Life and Wellness Center building.
Lanes specially designated for people who want to walk as they use their cell phones have been featured on TV programs and in advertising. Text-while-walking lanes were recently spotted in Antwerp, Belgium as a marketing stunt for a cell phone chain store. Last fall, the Internet was agog with news of texting-while-walking lanes in the Chinese city of Chongqing. The lane, which is dedicated to pedestrians who are glued on their phones, was rolled out in a theme park called Foreigner Street.
Meanwhile, pranksters in New York found another solution for phone-distracted pedestrians. Wearing jackets labeled "Seeing Eye People," they used leashes to guide people who were engrossed in their cell phones.
While technology is meant to accommodate the way people live, the texting-while-walking gait suggests that humans are adapting to cope with technological change.