Sheltered Islander: Text-Walking – A Study in Distraction

Text-walking is hazardous on Shelter Island
Text-walking is hazardous on Shelter Island, Photo: OSTILL/iStock/Thinkstock

I remember reading somewhere that in the 1850s it took four to six months for the American public to learn who had been elected president. Since the advent of YouTube in 2005, our speed of communication has transformed the world in ways social sciences will be studying for years. I can watch a video of something that happened minutes ago, halfway around the world. We live in an amazing time.

On a smaller note, Shelter Island is abuzz with signs of early summer. Lawn mowers drone away, new folding chairs are for sale in front of the pharmacy, early summer people are wearing their new “I missed my boat” Shelter Island t-shirts, and something new as a result of new technology is making a very strong appearance: the text-walker.

As if distracted text-drivers weren’t bad enough, now we have to watch for text-walkers. People walking, heads down, oblivious to their immediate, and sometimes dangerous, surroundings. They bump into each other, trip over curbs as obvious as the phone on their face, and wander in front of cars—and when I honk, they look at me like I’m the problem. It tempts me to hit the gas and see how far I can launch their smartass phone.

On Shelter Island, you have to worry about hitting deer, aggressive ducks and geese defending their nests, box turtles who get it in their heads that the grass is greener on the other side of the street, kamikaze seagulls dropping clams from high up to break them open on the road (or your car) bicyclists riding three abreast at 15 mph with a trail of cars behind them, and now—now we have to add text-walkers to the list. People meandering through parking lots, or drifting down the side of the road, never looking up because they are relying on your ability to swerve. If you want to take a relaxing drive in the country, don’t come here. You’ll have a heart attack avoiding something, and an anxiety attack waiting for the ferry.

I saw a teen couple sitting alone at a picnic table, faces down, thumbs a-flurry on their smart phones, shoulder-to-shoulder and giggling. I asked if they were playing one of those interweb games. “No,” the girl said, “we’re just texting each other.” I was going to ask the obvious question, like why are you texting someone next to you when there’s no one around to hear your conversation, but I knew I might get an answer that could give me a facial tic for a year.

Gotta keep up with the times. So I called my pal, Julie, and told her that we need to master the new way to enjoy nature here—by walking through it, ignoring it and texting. We met at the Whale’s Tale with the plan of text-walking down Manhasset Road.

“Gotchya phone, Julie?”

“Yup. Let’s play Go Fish and walk. Can I keep the edge of the road in my peripheral vision?”

“I think that might be OK. How do I get into this game and find you?”

“Here, I’ll get you in. There. OK.”

“Fishface? That’s my game name? Thanx pal. Keep walking.”


“Whoops, guess we’re drifting already, Sal. Stay closer to me.”

“Oh, damn. I touched something. Now I’m looking at an ad for sheets at Macy’s.”

“Oooooo, lemme see, I need sheets.”

“Julie, I can find the same set cheaper on eBay. Why is that cop pulling over?”

“What are we doing in the road?”

“We’re learning to text-walk like the kids do.”

“You’re 10 feet from your cars and already in the center in the road. I don’t think walking and texting is a skill you need. I don’t want you starting a trend. Meandering seniors is the last thing we need added to our road hazards list.”

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