Ellie Kurlander ’24 is a Government and Art History double major from Atlanta, Georgia. She formerly served as Flat Hat Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief and is a member of Phi Sigma Pi. While she currently resides in Florence, Italy, Ellie misses her daily attempts to domesticate campus squirrels. Contact at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
It’s a rainy Monday morning. You accidentally set your alarm for 7:30 p.m. instead of 7:30 a.m. You open your eyes, ready to take on the day blissfully unaware of your error. You roll over and check your phone only to be sucker-punched with the reality that it is 7:50 a.m. and you have ten minutes to make it to class. You sprint out of bed, throw on whatever clothes are lying on the top of your hamper, grab your backpack, pray to the backpack gods you packed all of your school supplies and you’re off. It’s 7:53 a.m. Your dorm is approximately a 6-minute and 20-second walk to Small Hall. It’s a close call but doable.
Everything is going well. You see the end in sight. Then suddenly, you see them — the person standing between you and your professor’s strict attendance policy. In the morning haze, the screen’s glow is so close to their face that it creates the illusion of a cyborg-like creature. Man and machine have become one. Their walk toes the line of looking robotic and like someone trying to pass a sobriety test — one foot slowly in front of the other, calculated, rhythmic and so unbearably slow.
The sidewalk is too small. There is no way you’ll be able to walk around them. You’re presented with two options: you could walk behind them and hope time magically stops long enough to make it to your destination, or you could walk through the swamp that used to be the grass outside Swem.
However, no matter what you choose, you are now late for class.
The immediate conclusion might be that the person who set the wrong alarm is at fault. However, the real antagonist of the story is the student on their phone. The first student left their dorm with enough leeway to make it to class with one minute to spare. Without the distracted student, they would have made it to their class on time. I also implore readers to view this situation through a lens of empathy. How would you feel knowing your class tardiness was due to someone reading about Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox’s alleged breakup on Daily Mail?
The frustration of being stuck behind a distracted walker is a daily occurrence for most students on campus. If you haven’t experienced the pure, unadulterated rage of being in this position, I hate to break it to you, but you are likely the offender.
This occurrence is so common there is now an official name for it: “twalking.”
Twalking isn’t only annoying, but it can also quickly become hazardous for the texter and those around them. There’s a reason we have an improv group called Trippin’ on Brix. The name is true to what happens daily to unsuspecting students — typically those distracted by their phones. The same goes for crossing the street. I’ve learned the hard way that bikers on campus stop for no one. To avoid fresh tire marks on your clothes, I recommend eliminating the common thread linking these accidents: phones.
To really drive the point home, I’ll offer a final analogy. Imagine deciding to drive 40 mph in the leftmost lane of an interstate highway with a posted 70 mph speed limit. Not only are you a nuisance to the cars behind you, but you’re also obstructing the flow of traffic, likely distracted and at an increased risk of collision with other cars. While you don’t have to act like you’re playing Mario Kart or training for a professional speed walking competition, if you see more than ten people in your periphery sacrificing the cleanliness of their shoes or walking on grass to pass you, it might be time to look up.
A technology-free walk to class can be unrealistic for some. I know I have been guilty of compulsively checking my phone on the way to class. Maybe your Spotify Daily Mix played the most heinous song you’ve ever heard in your entire life, and you need to skip it immediately or else your day will be ruined. Totally get it. Or worse, you’re about to walk by someone you ghosted on Tinder. Obviously, you have to pretend to be busy responding to something important on your phone to avoid any interaction with them.
However, if you find yourself incapable of getting between point A and point B without checking your phone, it may be time to reconsider your relationship with technology. Start slow. Begin by being mindful of your daily screen time. Can you reduce your time by ten minutes? Thirty minutes?
To point you in the right direction (literally), here are some questions to consider before picking up your phone.
Considerate: Are there others around you? Are you conscious of your pace slowing down as you walk? Will this require others behind you to alter their pace?
Urgent: Did you receive a notification that needs your immediate attention? Maybe you got an SOS text from a friend, your parents sent a cryptic text or your professor decided to switch classrooms for the day and sent a last-minute email. These may be understandable reasons to quickly read the message or respond with a brief text or phone call.
Timely: Are you in a rush? If you are, why are you on your phone at all? If you aren’t, be courteous, step aside and let the rest of the students running late do their awkward walk or jog to class.
Environment: Are you in an area with limited sidewalk space? Is this a high-traffic time of day? Do you have to cross the street? If you answer yes to any of these questions, maybe now is not a great time to be on your phone.
It is tough to be left alone with your thoughts for the five to ten minutes it takes to reach your final destination. More than that, we have conditioned ourselves to move through life while flipping from one source of intellectual, social or comedic enrichment to another. A smartphone allows you to be a tap away from all three. However, by making the conscious effort to go phone-free during your walk, you may discover that you have the mental fortitude to get to where you need to go without needing a distraction.
The New York Times article, the Instagram story, the half-written text, even this article will still be there when you arrive at your destination. Filling every gap in time with a distraction is a slippery slope toward an unhealthy relationship with technology. Putting down your screen is an exercise of mindfulness and an expression of kindness towards yourself and those around you.