Pedestrian Etiquette

It’s a strange thing but all of a sudden I’m seeing a lot of adults bump into each other, or even walk directly into hard objects. It is past time we all remembered our manners and for pedestrian etiquette to make a comeback.

When as children we have learned to walk and first start to socialise, we tend to run around wildly, arms flailing, bumping in to everything and everyone around us. Then as we grow older we gradually acquire social skills, become more or less civilised, and develop a kind of radar. We all have it and use it every day going about our normal lives. As we approach each other on crowded streets or in confined spaces, we automatically make room to accommodate the others’ presence and movements. A slight change of course, or a minor adjustment of speed (either faster or slower), perhaps a swivel of the body so two can pass through a narrow space – these are just some of the techniques that most adults acquire quite naturally. Life in bustling Hong Kong would be impossible without them. It is usually easy to spot non-residents, especially those from more gentle environments, because their skills are not as finely honed as ours and they are slow to react. We take these skills for granted in fact, and seldom think consciously about them.

But all that is changing with the explosion in use of mobile devices. Many people now walk about with eyes glued on the small screen in front of them. They may not realise it, but what they have in effect done is switch off their radar. Because all their attention is focussed elsewhere, they bump into people and objects. I have seen with my own eyes people walk into pillars in shopping arcades and hotels. Notice how surprised they always seem to be, sometimes even angry as if to say it’s the wall’s fault. The other day in the carpark I put my car in neutral, switched off the engine, and watched while a lady walked into the front bumper. I spread my hands and smiled at her: ‘how could it possibly be my fault, the car is not moving’ the gesture spoke volumes.

Then last weekend in Hong Kong Disneyland I saw the next development in the practice of walking with radar off. One young girl was absorbed in the screen, the other took her arm and steered her smoothly through the crowd. Radar by osmosis!

I don’t know about you but I think it’s all gone too far. We can’t have people stepping off the pavement without looking and then scolding the car driver who has knocked them over (unless of course he was driving while using his mobile). Innocent citizens deserve the right to walk along the street without being sent sprawling by human missiles flying blind.

I asked my teenage son what we could do about the situation. He didn’t hesitate "There’s probably an App for that". Abandon hope all ye who enter here.