Enough of Hong Kong's mobile phone zombie menaces to society

Yonden Lhatoo says it’s time to take matters into our own hands to shock these public nuisances out of their reverie and back into the real world

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 July, 2015, 7:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:41am

I’ve just about had enough of mobile phone zombies everywhere I go in Hong Kong. At best, they’re a public nuisance and, at worst, they’re a menace, posing a danger to themselves and others around them.

I’m talking about this annoying species of Hongkongers who walk around with their noses buried in their smartphones, oblivious to how they’re impeding the flow of humanity and irritating the heck out of everyone else. They’re everywhere – right in front of you, blocking your path, whether you’re navigating your passage along our narrow, overcrowded city streets, rushing to catch a train or bus, or even getting on and off the escalator in a shopping mall.

Just the other day, I had a run-in with a zombie in a crowded mall. She had her headphones plugged in and was not looking where she was going, obviously expecting me to get out of the way, along with anyone else who might be on a collision course with her. When I couldn’t manoeuvre to the side in time, we suffered a mini-crash, and what followed was a bit of a human traffic snarl, compounded in part by our brief staring contest.

Read more: Beware the smartphone zombies blindly wandering around Hong Kong

What really floored me, more than the actual physical impact of bumping into her, was the look of genuine outrage on her face. This was a person who, as far as she was concerned, was supremely within her rights to shuffle along in a crowded public place without paying heed to anyone around her because she was preoccupied with her phone. Everyone else should just get out of the way.

I walked away, shaking my head in disbelief, and consoling myself with the thought of her plunging face-first off the top of an escalator someday while engrossed in that damn phone.

I admit I look at my phone often when I’m in mid-stride as well, because of the sheer volume of email and text messages I receive every day, but I get out of people’s way if I have to read or write something that takes time. I don’t watch television dramas and entire movies, or play Candy Crush, on my phone in the middle of the street. Or when I’m getting on and off the train or escalator, which is downright dangerous.

Let me just say that people who are busy with their mobile phones while crossing the road are being suicidally stupid. Hong Kong’s drivers are impatient enough with pedestrians. And you want to give them an excuse?

There are no laws against using your phone in a public venue here, and even if there were, how would police enforce them in a free society of seven million people, almost all of whom have phones?

Since basic civic sense is an unfathomable concept to so many mobile phone zombies in our city, and public reminders such as those broadcast at MTR stations are totally ineffective, maybe some citizen policing would help. Hong Kong’s finest are busy with more important matters, so perhaps in the same spirit as a “citizen’s arrest”, we could give them a “citizen’s smack” on the back of the head. I propose a light slap that would be construed as a sharp admonishment rather than an act of vigilante violence, but it should carry enough force to shock them back into the land of the living. It would also help if other citizens in the vicinity burst into spontaneous applause, flash-mob style, every time a citizen’s smack is executed.

Does anyone remember when mobile phones first appeared in the mid-1990s? They were like gigantic walkie-talkies that weighed a ton. I used to lug them around like dumbbells as a beat reporter. They were great for building biceps. I also remember that triad thugs would carry them all the time and, more often than not, use them as weapons to beat one another senseless. But at least you didn’t have people tripping you up constantly, cocooned in their virtual worlds.

I’m addicted to my smartphone too, but I don’t use it as if I need a smack on the back of my head.