Stroll time on any packed sidewalk and you’ll witness heads bent over and eyes cast downward. A recent analysis of university scholars found that a quarter of individuals crossing intersections were glued to a device.
“I don’t think people are conscious of how much they’re diverted and how much their situational awareness changes when they’re walking and using a phone,” said Wayne Giang, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Florida who has examined the relationship between phone use and walking injuries.
Indeed, our devices can cause what some experts call “inattentional blindness.” One study found that participants were half as likely to notice a clown on a unicycle — a cheeky touch — while walking and talking on a phone.
But that screen in your hand isn’t just diverting your attention. It also alters your mood, your gait, and your posture — and hinders your ability to get from point A to point B without running into trouble.
When we walk and use a phone simultaneously, Dr. Giang said, we reflexively adjust how we move. Video footage of pedestrians has portrayed that people on phones walk about 10 percent slower than their undistracted counterparts.
“You see a number of gait changes that reflect slowing down,” said Patrick Crowley, a project manager at the Technical University of Denmark who has studied the biomechanics of walking while using a phone. “People take shorter steps and spend longer time with both feet on the ground.”
These changes can disrupt traffic on the sidewalk. And if walking makes up a sizeable portion of your daily physical activity, strolling more slowly may have consequences for your fitness, said Elroy Aguiar, an assistant professor of exercise science at the University of Alabama.
Looking down at a smartphone while walking — as opposed to standing up straight — can also enhance the amount of load, or force, placed on the neck and upper back muscles, which can contribute to symptoms of “text neck.” And research in the journal Gait & Posture suggests all this could reduce balance and increase the risk of stumbles or falls.