Using a smartphone changes your behavior in public space. People tend to walk, cycle or even drive more slowly and less focused when they try to be in the digital and physical world at the same time. This leads to tensions and strange, sometimes even dangerous situations — not only on streets and in bicycle lanes but also on sidewalks, according to the makers of the National Geographic series Mind over Masses. That’s why they wanted to find out what would happen if they created a dedicated zone for smartphone zombies on the sidewalks of Washington DC.
Using white paint with permission of the City, the TV makers divided a busy pedestrian zone into two lanes. On one lane the text “NO PHONES” was written down, while on the other lane the text “CELLPHONES: WALK THIS LANE AT YOUR OWN RISK” was placed to inform smartphone junkies about the risks of combining walking with looking at a phone. According to one of the researchers, the project didn’t turn out to be a success. Most people without phones in their hand say to have seen the signs and liked the project, but the people that were watching their phones while walking did not notice the signs at all, as they were to much focused on their toys.
The solution might not be right here, but the issue is definitely interesting. It shows urban designers that the smartphone era requires new ways of designing public space and a new way to communicate with end users. People are spreading their attention and do not (yet) have the capacities to do so. In this project it would have been a good idea to reach out to the smartphone users via a push notification.