Regarding cybersecurity, we immediately think of viruses, hackers and security holes. However, nowadays there is a much bigger threat. Have you heard about smombies yet?

This is not about the newest Trojan or a hacker, who is trying to hack the national bank’s firewall from his basement. The danger lies within all of us – we all bear the potential of being a smombie. The smombie species increases every day and is a danger to itself as well as to others. At first you would consider them to be normal pedestrians, walking in an average speed and keeping an eye on their environment. However, when their smartphone rings everything changes due to the urge to stay up to date. Of course they have to check what is going on. But the minute the person looks at his smartphone you can recognize its true nature: the suspected pedestrian is a smartphone zombie – a smombie. At once his pace drops below a turtle’s and the environment seems almost non-existent to the smombie.

Geoffrey A. Fowler, a Wall Street Journal reporter, wanted to test how little these smombies perceive their environment. By dressing up his colleague as Chewabacca from Star Wars and placing him on a street in San Francisco, he wanted to find out how many passers-by actually notice him. The reporter stopped pedestrians with smartphones in their hands, after they passed the alleged Chewbacca and asks them a simple question: “Did you notice the Chewbacca you just passed by?” Little have. At first the test results seemed to be quite irrelevant but if you start to think about it you realize the problem: If smombies don’t even perceive a really unusually dressed person, how are they supposed to see other pedestrians, bicycles or even cars?

Smombies aren’t a novelty, they did already cause many accidents and statistic even show a rising trend. To avoid more accidents caused by smartphones, designers and politicians around the world come up with the most absurd things.

The Swedish designer duo Jacob Sempler and Emil Tismann for instance invented a road sign which warns drivers about pedestrians distracted by smartphones.

Something special was invented in China as well: A sidewalk separated into two areas, one for smombies and one for normal pedestrians. This allows smartphone-users to walk in a turtle-like speed and in serpentine lines and is thus considered to be safer than usual sidewalks.

In San Francisco more and more pedestrian areas are set up (although smombies are just one of many reasons to do so) and in Hong Kong announcements in the subway ask passengers to pay attention to their environment.

Even though most accidents do sound funny – people falling into fountains, running against street lights or shop windows – there have been several severe accidents. Pedestrians get hit by cars or walk against tramways, as happened in Munich.

Funny enough the smombie phenomenon is used by app inventors for new ideas. There are apps which send out a warning if one is about to step on the street and some even lock the smartphone for the time one crosses the street. Actually, it would be much easier and way more logically to just put the smartphone in your pocket while you move in traffic. But as so often we do not seem to act rationally.

However, altogether this is a topic you just can’t help but grin about.

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