I see them everywhere now. In their hordes. Except not actually in a horde, in the sense of being a crowd working together, for these are solitary creatures, going about their own business, marching to their own tune. But they sure are everywhere.
I wish I could look into their eyes. I want to know what is going on in their heads as they shuffle towards me, on the footpath, engrossed in the thing, the device, they hold in their hand, like it is a sacred taonga. I want to know how they do what they do, the walking and the thing with the fingers at the same time. They must have special powers, to be able to see through the top of their heads.
I call them the Texting Dead.
I've always felt that walking is one of those things that requires a degree of concentration. I know it's not brain surgery in that the basics of walking are pretty, well, basic: move left leg forward; move right leg further forward than left leg; move left leg further forward of right leg; repeat. But walking, for me, is an act that requires a modicum of attentiveness, if only to stop me walking into stuff.
Yet there are people - and clearly many of them - for whom walking is such second nature that they can do it while simultaneously dealing with their mobile phone devices; texting or watching YouTube or playing Tetris or whatever. Are these people so in tune with their universe that they can navigate their way through the pedestrians and potholes without actually using their eyes? That must be so awesome.
One of the experiments I use to try to understand the Texting Dead is that sometimes, when I see one, head bowed, heading straight for me, I simply stop where I am and wait for them to come to me. Sometimes it gets pretty tense, like one of those old World War II U-boat films, as I wait to see if they will use their super-powers to sense the presence of a large man in their path. If their powers are weak for the day, or they are too busy playing Candy Crush or texting their friends to tell them they are, like, out walking, I will wait until collision is almost imminent then say, "Look out!!!" in an amusing-but-not-too-loud theatrical voice.
About 50 per cent of the time the Texting Dead person will stop, look up, apologise, and then move round me. About 50 per cent of the time they will do exactly the same thing but without the apology and with a look of "what are you standing there for, you weirdo". About 100 per cent of the time, when I turn round to watch them walk away, they will have gone back to whatever it was with their hand-held device that so enthralled them.
And this is just one of the many things I don't get about the Texting Dead: why? What is so damn important/beguiling about your phone that you can't do without it while you walk from A to B? Yes, sometimes we all need to send or receive a text message while we're on the go, but personally I generally pull over and find a wall to lean against while I go about my e-business. I do this out of self-preservation; driven by the fear that I will walk into someone or something or stray into traffic. Are some people simply born without this self-preservation gene?
Then there is the "what" question: what is so damn important about that thing in your hand that you can't leave it alone for a while? I live a relatively computer/device-filled life, staring at damn screens all day. One of the things I like about being out in the real world, walking around, is that I'm not engaged in that world, because I have my head up, looking round, engaging with the real world. Try it, text zombie person, it is almost as fun as any reality the virtual world can throw at you.
In fact, come to think of it, maybe this is the best way to deal with the Texting Dead: think of it as if it were a game, normally captured on a screen. Your mission is to get across town or around your neighbourhood without bumping into/being caught by the text zombies. Every time you see one coming towards you, you have to nimbly side-step them so they pass without noticing your presence in the real world. If you want, you can even make little "peyow" noises as they pass and with every tenth one you avoid, you get to say something along the lines of "level up!"
Life, eh? Who knew it could even be more fun than the fun you have with your phone?