Walking is like breathing. Effortless. You’re up and moving. One of nature’s healthiest activities can also prove one of its most pleasant. People often love cities because they are “walkable”—you can get what you need on your own two feet. And be entertained—and pleasured—all along the way.
“So why have people forgotten how to walk?” my patient asks.
He’s not referring to their ability to move. He’s talking about how they move with others.
Because they have forgotten what to do.
Moving In the Crowd
My patient is a big guy. He’s tall, he’s broad, he’s strong. And he also has two artificial hips and a horrendous looking spine.
I see him because he has sleep apnea. I told him that if he could walk on his own it would help him lose weight. Which would make it easier for him to move; to get off a CPAP machine; to lower his blood pressure; to prevent incipient diabetes; to enjoy life fuller and longer.
He did it. It hurt like hell, but he did and does move—as much as he can. Sometimes he can walk up to a mile.
But sometimes he can’t.
In the airport coming home from visiting his kids, he kept trying to move. But he could not get out of the way. Partial cyborgs kept moving into his path.
He tried to dodge, twist, curl around them. But like daleks attacking Dr. Who, they kept coming.
So he gave up. He stood still.
And they bumped into him, mercilessly. Huge and friendly, he is a hard man not to notice.
Many never did. And it’s not just airports. The same thing happens to him in stores, streets, malls.
The Cyborg Revolution
The Net is many things. It's certainly an economic revolution. We have seen its beginnings but have no clear idea of its end.
Now people handle computers in their hands, on their eyeglasses, in their pockets, on their wrists. Soon they will commonly appear on the tops of their heads and within the weaves of their clothes.
And their wearers often forgot to notice anything else—including the community of other people around them doing exactly what they're doing.
It’s one thing to be transfixed by devices while you’re sitting. It’s another altogether when you’re moving in space.
The Problem of Motion
Moving with your eyes tethered to cell phone or tablet is a bad idea for lots of reasons. Here are a few:
1. Accidents. Plenty of pedestrians have been killed watching their cell phones in traffic. Many more have and will become injured.
I watched one such fellow dragged by a Manhattan van while I walked to a friend’s wedding. Trust me—it’s ugly.
2. Falls. If you don’t care to notice what’s ahead of you, you’ll trip. Orthopedists already have enough business.
3. Flow. People walk to get somewhere.
To a business client. To a lover. To their kids at school. To the grocery store.
They want to get there safely. They want to get there quickly.
That can only happen when you notice the other people getting there, too. Walking, marching, running, bicycling, driving.
Like commerce, of which it is a big part, human transport works best when its flow is optimized for everyone.
Some places know how to do this. I watched with amazed pleasure as pedestrians, wheelchair movers, bikes, and motorbikes shared the sidewalks of the streets of Kyoto.
People were looking out for someone else. When bicyclists rode by, they magically moved out of the way.
Traffic moved very quickly and fluidly.
But first you have to look.
4. Health. The more we sit, the quicker we leave this earth. So say several population studies.
Is that true of every individual? No. Chance makes our own private lives much more of a crapshoot. But populations that move more are much healthier populations.
People who walk regularly are less depressed; live longer; work longer; are generally happier.
They also look better. To walk you have to see where you’re going.
Rules of The Road
We know what to do. We just don’t want to do it.
Item—texting while driving. It kills and maims a lot of people.
In many states it’s legal to text and drive. In those where it isn’t, it is hardly enforced.
As for pedestrian laws, forget it. I use clearly marked crosswalks all the time. Perhaps a third of cars actually stop to let me walk forward.
Follow the law and I’ll be within my rights—and dead.
So legal changes won’t work now, or for probably a long time. Self interest should rule.
Only walk when you can see in front, to the sides, and behind you.
The last part is important—as Satchel Paige said long ago, someone might be gaining on you.
And not seeing you.
Follow this rule and you can go back to one of the simplest pleasures of humanity—moving across the terrain.
Rebuilding your cells as you move. Improving your memory. Seeing the world. Experiencing adventures. Having fun.
And enjoying the company of others—doing what you, and they, love to do.