Educate Featured Carousel March 2019

The Zombies Among Us

Written By: Brian Scarborough

It’s so hard to be careful, so easy to be led, somewhere beyond the pavement, you’ll find the living dead.” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers,
Zombie Zoo.

Over the holidays, my family and I ventured out west to explore Nevada and Arizona. It was a fantastic trip, thanks for asking, but in the hotel lobbies, airports and other spots where crowds gathered, I found multiple examples of a theory I’ve been formulating over the last few years: There are zombies among us. No, not the brain-eating variety that you see on TV, in video games or in the movies, but rather humans whose attention has been entirely seized by the screen of their smart phones.

I want to attempt to not come off as an aging, “get off my lawn,” grumpy old man. I’m a fan of technology and the advantages it provides. But the best use of technology is as a tool for humans to gain knowledge and efficiencies. Sadly, from what I’ve observed in terms of the constant availability of social media and online content via the smartphone, it is more commonly used as a form of escape from the present and our immediate surroundings and has radically changed human behavior. Some examples:

The next time you’re in busy airport, try this experiment: See how far you can walk in a straight line in the terminal without having to dodge a zombie walking the opposite direction staring into his or her smartphone. My personal record is about 40 feet.

Another fun one is to observe your fellow travelers on an airplane once you’ve landed to see how quickly everyone reconnects to their online world via their phones. Recently, I took a flight from Atlanta to Huntsville. I think we were airborne (and therefore disconnected unless you wanted to pay the $16 Wi-Fi fee to Delta) for all of 27 minutes. Upon landing, every visible passenger immediately had phones in hand in case they’d missed something urgent. It was 8:15 a.m. Sunday. What possibly could have occurred in those 27 minutes in those people’s lives?

On this recent holiday trip, when checking out of a busy hotel, my family of four and our luggage were in an elevator which we shared with one 20-something, who stood at the front by the doors. When we reached the ground floor and the doors opened, he literally stood there unmoving for a full 10 seconds before I had to tap him on the shoulder and mention that the doors had, in fact, opened, and the time for action was at hand. He wasn’t noticeably drunk, blind or asleep on his feet. He was simply enraptured by the Twitter feed on his iPhone. He’d become a smartphone zombie.

When walking around the platforms around the rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the great vistas in all of the world, we had to consistently wind our way around people taking selfies or otherwise attempting to capture the awe-inspiring surroundings in video form. (As an aside, this begs the modern question: If you go somewhere and don’t capture it on your phone or post about it on social media, did you really actually go?) I observed hundreds of people acting this way along the rim of a huge, world-renowned cliff, in spite of the news that a couple visiting Yosemite National Park tragically died when they fell from high elevation while trying to capture a selfie. Take heed, being a zombie can be hazardous.

On that note, this zombie phenomenon has a very real insurance implication. And, yes, in my mind, all topics eventually lead to the intertwined subjects of insurance and risk (this makes me a real hit at parties). Zombies make crappy drivers. The next time you’re driving around and stopped at an intersection, observe the cars going by and see how many of your fellow drivers are looking at their phones. You’ll be alarmed at what you see.

Further, we probably spend an extra hour at intersections annually as the drivers ahead of us don’t notice the light change because they’ve gone into zombie mode. Our company recently ran an ad in this magazine for a few months with the title “W82txt” with an image of a football field in the background.

The ad highlighted that if you look at your phone for just a few seconds while driving, you’ll have your eyes off the road for the length of an entire football field. Now, I know we’re all busy and in today’s business world, we all feel the pressure of providing information and feedback
to our customers as quickly as possible.

That said, the email or text you’re reading or trying to send probably doesn’t involve the cure to cancer or critical intelligence regarding the fight against global terrorism. Presuming I’m right, then I’d argue you’re better served making it safely to your destination and allowing those around you to do the same.

But beyond driving, being tethered to an online existence and your smartphone is a lousy way to live. I remember an interview I once heard with Jerry Seinfeld on a joke he loved but could never get right because it came off as offensive to the audience. He was talking about how irritated he got when he saw audience members getting calls on their cellphones during a show. The punchline was something like, “I know that call isn’t important because they’re calling YOU.” I thought it was funny because I can probably remember only two or three really important, life-altering calls I’ve ever received, and yet today’s impulse is to never be disconnected.

So, I’d invite you to join me in trying to be a little more present and a little less concerned with the immediacy of remaining connected via some form of device. You’ll be a better driver, to be sure. You’ll have the chance to see things or meet actual human beings that you would otherwise miss, and your stress level will unquestionably drop. Those of us who are sharing the road, an airport terminal or an elevator with you thank you in advance. Now, kindly get off my lawn. 

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