The city of Augsburg, Germany this week took a small but transformative step towards enabling crippling smartphone addiction. Augsburg has become one of the first cities in the world to create public infrastructure for the sole purpose of enabling and protecting smartphone users. Specialized traffic lights are being installed into the sidewalk pavement throughout the city intended to let smartphone users see traffic signals without having to look up from their phone screens.
Some city residents are thrilled, citing the move as a boon to public safety. Others, however, see the sidewalk traffic lights as either a waste of taxpayer money or an appeasement to an unhealthy social practice. The traffic lights come in the wake of a German teen being struck and killed by a subway train due to the fact that she was staring at her phone while crossing railroad tracks.
Augsburg isn’t the first city to try such a move to relieve congestion caused by hordes of near-catatonic smartphone users. Chongqing, China and Antwerp, Belgium have both tested designated smartphone “lanes” on sidewalks to try and relieve the unwanted collisions and pedestrian traffic jams that smartphone users can cause.
Disruptive public phone use has become such a problem in Germany that teens there have even created a new portmanteau to describe smartphone users who are unable or unwilling to look up from their phones – “smombies,” short for “smart phone zombie.” Is this where humanity is headed – towards a future where we never have to look away from our devices? If public smartphone use does put us one step closer to making The Walking Dead a reality, at least those dead can now walk safely down traffic light-equipped sidewalks.