Smartphone Zombies Are Alive and Well in Philadelphia

Who knows how long they will survive.

The head-down zombies are everywhere. You can spot them half a block away. Unaware of the world around them, coming right at you; but for a matador move on your part, the zombie would ram right into you.

The head-down zombies are texting, playing a game, reading an email or even watching a movie. Often they have buds lodged in their ear canals, making them quite senseless, in every possible meaning of the word.

Philadelphia has become ground zero in the fight against the zombies—not because there are more here than anywhere else in the world, but because they tend to perform for the camera making them Internet and TV News sensations.

In January 2011, 49-year-old Cathy Marrero became known around the world as the woman who fell into the fountain at the mall. Really.

This happened at the Berkshire Mall in Wyomissing, near Reading. Not exactly a Philly suburb. But every piece of news copy around the world had the line, “in a mall just outside Philadelphia.”

Then came the guy lost in a phone conversation who walked off the platform at the Berks station on the Market-Frankford line. Again, every news story had the line “at a Philadelphia train station.”

It made people start to wonder what was in the water in Philly. I mean aside from the texters.

It didn’t help that Mayor Michael Nutter and Rina Cutler, the Deputy Mayor of Transportation, put out an April Fool’s video pretending to put up a pedestrian e-lane so texters could walk unencumbered. Now the city may really do something about the problem.

It turns out distracted walkers are no joke.

There were 1,152 people treated in hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. last year due to injuries related to walking while using a cell phone or some other electronic device, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Since most people either don’t admit or aren’t asked about distracted walking, that number is thought to be much higher.

Over the last six years, 116 people have been killed while wearing headphones. Half of the incidents involved trains. The victims could not hear the train horn blaring. Texting while wearing headphones leaves you virtually deaf and blind. The dumb part is presumed and has nothing to do with speech.

There are laws against distracted walking across the country that come with varying fines. Since Michael Nutter is always looking for a way to get more money from those who step foot in the city, I am surprised he hasn’t proposed a law to get at the wallets of the head-down zombies.

Instead, expect Philadelphia to copy nearby Delaware, where highway safety officials have put decals on crosswalks and busy intersections that read “Look up. Drivers aren’t always looking out for you.”

Rina Cutler likes the idea, but has the inclination to add a little Philly attitude. She told the New York Daily News, “One of the messages will certainly be “pick your head up— I want to say ‘nitwit,’ but I probably shouldn’t call them names.” Oh, please do, the rest of us call them names.

In any case, this is a plea to the zombies and their smartphones. Please avoid trains, fountains and especially surveillance video for the foreseeable future. You’re making us all look like nitwits.