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Should Special Walking Lanes Be Built Exclusively for Phubbers?
 NO.32 AUGUST 9, 2018

In front of a shopping mall along Yanta Road in Xi'an, capital city of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, a walking lane recently appeared exclusively designed for phubbers—slow-moving smartphone users with their eyes glued to their phone screens. The lane is painted red, green and blue and is 80 cm wide and 100 meters long, with visible pictures of smartphones so that phubbers can quickly identify it.

Some think this special lane will make phubbers' travel on city streets safer while making it better for those who do not use smartphones on the streets. Others believe the lane is encouraging phubbers to go even further on the road of smartphone addiction and thus puts them at greater risk.

A considerate method

Fan Zijun (www.voc.com.cn): There is a loud voice against having a special lane for phubbers that argues that it's unfair. However, once the reason for building it is made clear, people will find that they have misunderstood the sincerity of this small project.

This special lane was built on a block devoted to tech-innovation industries, and it was set up by a shopping mall. Since there are many IT workers in the area who are used to looking at their smartphones, and there is a nearby parking lot, this special lane was built to warn cars to move slowly so as to defuse any risks to these phubbers.

We don't advocate the practice of staring at phone screens while walking, but since this group is tangible existence that no one can ignore, there should be methods of coping with this situation. Currently, this is the best solution that the shopping mall could come up with to ensure the community's safety.

Yang Yulong (www.eastday.com): It's wrong for people to have their eyes glued to their cellphones, especially when walking on the streets, but there are always some exceptions. For example, there may be an important or urgent phone call or an important message. For young people who are working hard in big cities for more opportunities of further development, time and efficiency are especially valuable. To miss one important message might lead to the loss of a business opportunity. Thus, not all phubbers are entertaining themselves while staring at their phone screens.

Since it's inevitable for some people to use smartphones while walking on the streets, it's absolutely necessary for supportive facilities to follow up. Since the lane is close to a parking lot, it can help to prevent phubbers from bumping into cars. At least, their lives will not be at risk on this lane.

However, this is not a replicable practice. To paint words like "special phubber lanes" on the streets is illegal in many cities. The lane in Xi'an is in front of a shopping mall, which is geographically special and is made out of a plastic track that is comfortable to walk on.

Safety is always the paramount concern on the streets. The habit of walking with your eyes glued to a cellphone is itself dangerous and bothersome to other phone and road users. Even if there is a special lane for them, if phubbers do not take care, they may bump into other phubbers on the same lane or even fall over onto the road. Thus, it is safer to get them to stop staring at their phone screens than to provide them with a special lane.

Don't enable phubbers

Ding Jiafa (www.rednet.cn): I believe whether this lane was built by city administrative authorities or certain businesses to catch public attention, it is not a wise way to ensure pedestrian safety. Instead, it may abet the public in using smartphones on the road more often and thus cause more dangers in the long run.

Undoubtedly, the appearance of phubbers is a great challenge for city management. In order to eliminate potential risks, policymakers have taken measures to protect these smartphone users. However, the special lane reminds us of the lanes for the blind. They are quite similar in purpose, but smartphone users are not blind and they can observe their surrounding environment clearly. Therefore, they should take the responsibility of taking care of themselves instead of relying on specially designed lanes for their convenience. In my opinion, setting up special lanes for phubbers is in nature an encouragement for smartphone users to ignore their personal safety.

The special lane is totally open, thus it is not as safe as many people think. Even when phubbers walk on the special lane, if they are immersed in their smartphones without paying attention to their surroundings, incidents will still occur. So this measure does not eliminate safety concerns completely.

On the one hand, in reality, few smartphone users will use the special lane, as it is limited to a certain place and is too short. On the other hand, this measure will have people believe it is reasonable and right to use phones on the road and thus emboldening more pedestrians to use their phones while walking. It is better not to build special lanes for phubbers, since their shortcomings far outweigh their benefits.

Yuan Hao (www.eastday.com): Public opinions differ widely on a special lane for smartphone users. Supporters are tolerant and even claim that Washington, D.C., capital of the United States, once planned a similar special lane on a particular avenue. They believe this measure is meaningful even if it is for the purpose of catching public attention and showing the danger of smartphone addiction.

However, building special lanes for smartphone users is not a warning but a kind of encouragement of bad habits. To some extent, setting up special lanes will guard pedestrians from potential risks and will win the favor of people who are used to walking while using their smartphones. But the goal should be to rid them of this bad habit, not to build a special lane for them. It is undoubtedly a waste of public resources.

Actually, the special lane idea in the United States is quite different from the Chinese one. It was not built by local authorities in Washington, D.C., but was devised by Mind over Masses, a program on the National Geographic Channel. The program did an experiment targeting smartphone addicts. It divided local streets into two categories: one had a notice that read "No cellphones," while the other one read "Cellphones, walk at your own risk." However, the results of the experiment were unsatisfactory because most smartphone users did not even notice the warnings on the ground. Only a handful of them saw the notice and changed their path.

The fact is the United States is very strict about phubbers. In Honolulu, capital of Hawaii, pedestrians using cellphones while walking on the road are fined a maximum of $99. However, there is still no punishment for phubbers in China. In my opinion, phubbers, like drunk drivers, should be severely punished. Relevant authorities are supposed to inform the public of the harm of using smartphones on the streets. Probably, only real accident cases will help to drag phubbers from the brink of the cliff.

In conclusion, phubbers should be warned, but by no means should they be connived and even encouraged to use smartphones on the road by building lanes exclusively for them.

An educational opportunity

Xu Yijia (www.people.com.cn): The special lane for the so-called phubbers is not the fundamental way to eradicate potential danger, and thus cities around the country need to give it a second thought before they begin to replicate this lane. This special lane is totally open, so it's not absolutely safe for its users. Moreover, the single special lane is unable to shield all of the phubbers in society, so it is more like a stunt. Since this lane has designated people to maintain order, it appears safe for smartphone users. However, its appearance to some extent will justify some phubbers' addiction to their phones while walking, and thus encourage more people to do so. This lane is going too far in terms of caring for smartphone users, while at the same time, squeezing limited social resources.

This lane, however, can be used as a trial to discourage phubbers from using smartphones when walking on the streets. Phubbers have recently become an increased nuisance, but there are few effective warnings available. In this sense, to set up a special lane on the streets, installed with warnings and instructions, will educate more people about this problem.

Actually, the debate on whether to copy special lanes for smartphone users should be steered to more discussions on how to better educate phubbers.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

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