Zombie Pedestrians

Once upon a time in a land called America, schoolchildren were taught how to cross the street by their parents or their older siblings. Red light means the cars stop, and green light means the cars go. Wait for the red light and make sure the cars have stopped, look both ways, carefully cross the street. For decades, first graders across the nation successfully crossed the street without tens of thousands of dollars' worth of flashing lights and annoying beeping and counting and pictures of a cute little walking man at every stinking intersection.

Those early pedestrians understood that the cars were bigger than they were, and that they needed to pay attention to the traffic and what was going on around them; a grasp on reality that many of today's pedestrians have not yet achieved. As more and more laws are enacted on the pedestrian's behalf giving him the 'right of way', fewer and fewer pedestrians are taught what the right of way is or how it works. The phrase itself is frequently reduced to a weapon, something righteous for disgruntled have-nots to hold on to and disparagingly yell at those they perceive to be the haves.

Being granted the right of way means the legal right of one entity to proceed with precedence over others in a particular situation or place.

Here are some things that having the right of way does not mean:
  • It does not mean that cars can't crush you and bikes can't run you down and that you are invulnerable.
  • It does not mean that you have no-fault insurance; that you can't be held liable for an accident.
  • It does not mean that it is OK to dawdle your way across a six lane highway while twelve cars are waiting in the left turn lane, eight of which will have to wait for another light cycle because you are poking.
    Pedestrians expect drivers to be courteous toward them but seemingly never consider returning the favor. Hustle across the street when you can! It is OK for pedestrians to be considerate too.
  • It does not mean that you can stop paying attention to the world around you. Walking down the street staring at your phone, crossing intersections and parking lot entrances without ever looking up is both dangerous and stupid.
A wise man once noted that the only thing you know for certain when you see another driver's directional blinking, is that his directional is blinking. Similarly, the only thing you know for certain while blindly walking down the street empowered with the right of way, is that you are entitled to the right of way. You do not know if every driver and biker sees you and is willing and able in that moment to accommodate you. It is reasonable for pedestrians to expect drivers to be paying attention and it is just as reasonable for drivers to expect pedestrians to be paying attention.

Pedestrians are a part of traffic, not above it.

Not everything that looks like progress automatically is. Do the crosswalk lights and timers make us a safer society, or just lazy? Or worse? Early in the morning in Any City, USA you can find people waiting for the little walking man to give them permission to cross the street, though ten minutes have passed since the last car did. Is it a fear of getting caught crossing against the light that maintains them on the corner like zombies, or more frighteningly, did crossing against the light never even occur to them?

Perhaps the issue is neither safety nor laziness, but conditioning. Law enforcement and government routinely use tricks like pulling drivers over for not using their directional to change lanes although there was no other driver behind them to see it, to turn citizens into less thoughtful beings.

Always use your directional.
Always wait for the walking man.
Don't think.

Pedestrians have the right of way.
Don't look.

Always do what the officer says.
Don't question.

Question everything!
Look around and around!
Most of all, think, think, think!

Cross when it's safe.
Blink when it is necessary.
Enjoy the right of way and be considerate.

We're all part of the same big traffic jam. The sooner we stop honking at each other, the sooner the traffic will clear.

Can Social Media Contribute to Addictive Behaviors or Mental Health Issues?

Before grappling with the question of whether excessive use of social media can contribute to addictive behaviors or mental health issues, it must in good conscience be noted that ironically no word in the English language is more commonly or severely abused than addiction. Together, groups ranging from ostensibly reputable organizations such as WebMD and Psychology Today to countless spas and rehab centers have posited thousands of 'definitions' for addiction that now float across cyberspace and throughout society - without exception they are wordy and morose, seemingly written by authors unfamiliar with a dictionary, each one different from the next yet all lacking the objectivity expected from a definition, while clearly promoting an agenda.

As defined by Miriam-Webster, an addiction is a "compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal". Contrary to the healthcare industry's misinformation campaign, by definition the terms gambling addiction, sex addition and social media addiction - among others - are misnomers. It is however undeniable that the use of social media can cause its users to develop varying degrees of habits, compulsions and/or obsessions that resemble addictive-like behaviors.

The negative effects of social media are beginning to be well documented, with Facebook executives recently admitting in a blog post that the platform may pose a risk to users' emotional well-being. Frequently looking at one's phone, interrupting conversations to respond or reply to social media posts and an inability to enjoy participating in any activity without attempting to inform the world of it are all too commonplace in 2018.

Social media permits the user to communicate when convenient, allowing for reflection before responding to a query or offering information, making it easier to manage relationships using tech than with interactive conversation because it can be unilaterally controlled. Studies have shown that up to 11% of adults would rather stay at home and communicate on their devices than take advantage of opportunities to personally interact with friends.

Social media provides a shield or veil for the user, alternately used for protection and concealment, behind which bravado is more easily summoned and notions that would not be spoken to another human being are casually dispensed amid social media. In a culture where the currency is 'followers' and 'friends', you can be or say anything you like without fear of having to face consequences other than being unfriended or unfollowed, which in reality is no consequence at all. In this way, social media makes its users less social, less able to communicate person to person, less human.

The resulting emotional and mental health issues worsen as the refuge found in anonymity and a lack of accountability is sought and assimilated into other parts of life, such as closing email and other correspondence with accountability-free generic signatures like Membership Committee, HR Associate or no signature at all - even in business settings!

At a mere fifteen years old, social media, its benefits and its drawbacks have not yet been fully revealed, however it is already apparent that excessive use of social media can and does contribute to compulsive, addictive-like behaviors and mental health issues.

A graduate of Portland State University, Steve (Reeno) Kloser is the author of Beginning Band - A Guide to Success and Let's Make Music - Classroom Recorder Course. He is also an accomplished teacher, conductor and composer, having penned numerous pieces including La Vida and Fly With Me.

Teacher, web developer, Packers fan and proud American, Reeno's usually slanted outlook often presents an unlikely perspective on issues old and new.
Reeno currently lives in Portland, OR.

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