John O'Malley multitasks while crossing Jackson Drive. He frequently checks his social network and texts his friends while on the move.
Other Chicagoans consider themselves avid and agile texters and walkers, though an Australian study finds that doing both can lead you astray.
Some Chicagoans think they can text and walk without missing a beat. But a recent study from down under found that people can’t walk a straight line while reading or writing with their phones.
DePaul University undergraduate Michael Dovellos usually steps to the side when he needs to compose a longer text.
“I kind of pull over to make sure I didn't walk into a pole or a divide or something,” he said. “I've been walked into, almost knocked over, by people [on their phones]. They have no idea what their surroundings are whatsoever.”
The study, published in PLOS ONE, used 3D tracking cameras to monitor 26 people as they walked 85 meters while either composing a text, reading text or walking without their phones.
“We found that people had a kind of robotic walk,” said lead study author Siobhan Schabrun of the University of Queensland in Australia. “And when you have a more rigid posture, you’re more likely to hurt yourself.”
In order to focus on the screen, subjects had to keep their head, torso and arms in an unnaturally rigid position.
All the study subjects excelled at texting on a touchscreen phone. And they were young - their average age was 29. Subjects veered most off course when writing the text, but just reading from their screen lead to altered steps.
Schabrun said that this could lead to traffic accidents. Her study was partially prompted by a woman walking off a pier while on her phone.
In the U.S., pedestrian deaths grew to 17 percent of all traffic-related fatalities in 2012, compared to 13 percent in 2003, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. DePaul University undergraduate Doug Makowski nearly tripped as he was crossing the street while looking at his phone.
“I think I'm average [at texting and walking],” Makowski said. “But as you can see a couple minutes ago, I'm not that great.”
Makowski said he mostly surfs the web if he has his phone out on a walk, but will stop if he needs to send a text. Cynthia Luna, a case worker for an anti-poverty nonprofit, usually avoids texting, but uses her phone for other things.
“Like right now, I'm trying to use my GPS on it,” she said.
John O’Malley, a musician, often uses his phone when he is walking.
“Most of the times that I'm just walking around, I’m using my phone,” he said. “I mean, people are on their phones a lot. I'm not really an exception I guess. “
Some technologies like Apple’s Siri may be able to solve this problem, but O’Malley and Dovellos said the technology isn’t up to par.
“If they had a better one, I'd use it, but Siri sucks,” O’Malley said.
“Sometimes Siri doesn’t understand what you’re saying,” Dovellos said. “With the Chicago winter and the wind and everything ... it doesn't really work.”
But Schabrun thought that it’s not just the act of looking at your phone screen that causes a drifting walk.
“The problem is really dual tasking,” she said.
Schabrun hopes to look at the physiological connection to walking in future studies. It still isn’t known how differences in what subjects see and their posture causes the changes in their walk.