I was recently walking in the Walt Whitman mall in Huntington for exercise when I was confronted by a gantlet of pedestrians staggering and weaving, suddenly stopping dead in their tracks or wantonly changing direction without regard to who or what was in their way. It looked like shore leave on New Year's Eve.
All of these seeming zombies were either talking or texting on their cellphones.
Everyone knows the dangers of using a cellphone while driving, but using one while walking can also be hazardous.
Look around: From streets and sidewalks to school hallways and college campuses, parking lots and airports to supermarkets and shopping malls, there is always someone strolling along while talking, texting, working or gaming on a cellphone.
Remember the joke about not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time? Well, it takes a lot more concentration and coordination to walk while you're locked in deep electronic concentration.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission says reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past seven years. And in 2011, about 1,152 people were treated in emergency rooms for injuries suffered while walking and using a cellphone or some other electronic device, the agency says.
Such distraction can even lead someone to be a crime victim. In May, a 20-year-old man was walking and texting on a Uniondale street when another man ran by and grabbed the phone out of his hand, police said. The phone's owner caught up with the robber and was hit in the face with a bottle.
Elsewhere, the Associated Press reported cases involving a 24-year-old woman who walked into a telephone pole while texting, and a 53-year-old woman who fell off a curb while texting and suffered cuts to her face. Then, there's that video, an Internet favorite, of a woman walking into a fountain at a Philadelphia shopping mall as she was texting.
Researchers say the trouble with walking and calling or texting, is that most people can't focus on two things at once. Their attention shifts rapidly between tasks, and performance suffers. But like a lot of drivers who use cellphones behind the wheel, pedestrians often mistakenly think they're in control.
At Stony Brook University, participants in an experiment had their vision partially blocked and were asked to walk across a room to a piece of paper on the floor. Then, days later, they tried the same thing again while talking or texting on a cellphone. Subjects on the phone walked 16 percent slower, but the texting group walked even slower than a few days earlier, strayed off course 61 percent more and overshot the target 13 percent more.
It's unclear how to save people from themselves. Perhaps laws would make some people think twice, but a bill to outlaw the use of electronic devices while walking in public went nowhere in the New York State Legislature a few years ago.
I think it's OK to stay in touch as long as we also remain connected to our environment and what's going on around us. People have to be more aware that they are risking their safety and that of others by using a cellphone while walking.
Reader Rick Bodamer lives in Blue Point.