The Smartphone Walk
by James Lamont
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider how much time, and attention, we give to our smartphone relationships.
Preparation and materials
- You might like to display the second large photo of the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo from the article at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28208144, but this is optional.
- Have available the track ‘Oxygène (part II)’ or other choice of music by Jean Michel Jarre and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
- It’s Friday night in Tokyo and for many people there is only one place to be. Head to the vast Shibuya (pronounced as it seems, Shi-by-ah – equal stress on each syllable) Station and join the extraordinary crowd as it makes its way towards the huge central crossing. There are similarly huge masses of people on each side of the X-shaped junction. The lights turn green (or 'blue' to the Japanese) and essentially four enormous crowds walk straight towards each other. The huge tides of people on each side become an ocean in the middle as they cross over. Black-suited businessmen with their umbrellas and briefcases, trend-setting gyaru (girls), awe-struck tourists and casual college students mingle as they dart and move past each other.
Yet, somehow, it works. Through a combination of politeness to others and determination to get where they are going, everyone makes it to the other side and there are no collisions or awkward attempts to pass others by.
- The Shibuya crossing is just a big zebra crossing, but this chaotic yet controlled environment has become a must-see on many tourists' itineraries. Indeed, so renowned is it that the X-shaped crossing at London’s Oxford Circus was based on this Tokyo junction.
- It is, however, becoming more difficult to cross now than it used to be. Among young Japanese people, smartphone usage has increased and is nearly universal. A young Japanese person walking down a main road with his or her gaze fixed on a smartphone is a pretty common sight. In a city this crowded, though, not looking where you're going is usually a bad idea.
- In many ways, smartphone use in Tokyo is contradictory. Although Japanese people use their phones on the streets, it is a great social bllunder to talk on them or play music on the trains. It just isn't done. Commuting may be a crowded and sweaty experience, but at least you don't have to discover the person next to you's lack of taste! Nevertheless the so-called 'smartphone walk' is increasingly common.
- You will all know exactly what a smartphone walk looks like, I’m sure – head down, striding along, not looking where you’re going, seemingly, at all! On the Shibuya crossing, that's a problem.
Imagine the four groups of people walking towards each other. Now imagine that they are not looking where they are going. It’s estimated that only about a third of the people would cross in time before the lights changed.
- For many of us, the Internet and social media are no longer things we occasionally look at on our computers but a big part of everyday life. A Facebook message can be as valuable as a real conversation. A 'like' or a tag in a post is a real human interaction.
It obviously has many advantages and, in a way, we are more social than ever. Yet, in another sense, is time spent staring at a small screen really worth remembering? It brings our field of vision down to just 5 per cent of what it was designed to take in.
We should remember that, no matter how smart our technology, we can be smarter.
- It is interesting to note that, near to the Shibuya crossing, in the beautiful Yoyogi Park, international groups and young couples alike enjoy the summer heat together. Even in a city as wired as Tokyo, there is still time for genuine human interaction and the simpler pleasures of nature, friendship and overpriced green tea!
Time for reflection
How much time do you spend doing the ‘smartphone walk’ each day?
Could that time or some of it be better spent in genuine, face-to-face interaction?
‘Oxygène (part II)’ or other choice of music by Jean Michel Jarre