Just Saying

How stupid and smartphones go together in Hong Kong

Yonden Lhatoo compares Seoul’s effort to prevent accidents involving smartphone users on the streets with Hong Kong’s total unwillingness to do anything

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 June, 2016, 3:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 June, 2016, 3:28pm

Much as I hate to admit it, having never jumped on the bandwagon to admire all things South Korean, from assembly-line pop music and soppy soap operas to clone plastic surgery, cities like Seoul can still teach Hong Kong a thing or two.

This week, the South Korean capital launched a safety campaign for mobile phone zombies – those selfish, civically challenged individuals who shuffle around with their noses buried in the personal pacifiers that were once useful for making and taking calls.

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

Every pocket of civilisation on this planet has its share of this socially stunted species who create a public nuisance by impeding the flow of humanity. They’re a danger to themselves – which is fine by me, knock yourself out – but also to others as they cross streets, step on and off escalators, and board and alight from trains and buses with their faces glued to glowing touch screens.

South Korea is doing something about the fact that collisions between zombies and vehicles in the country have more than doubled in five years to around 1,000 reported cases in 2014.

Seoul, one of the world’s most wired cities and the capital of a country with a smartphone penetration rate of around 80 per cent of the population, has started putting up hundreds of warning signs. City officials are targeting black spots with the highest number of young pedestrians, having identified smartphone users in their teens to their 30s as the problem demographic.

Warning signs will not only be displayed on traffic light poles but also plastered on actual pavements because smartphone and stupid usually go together and the zombies couldn’t even be bothered to look up from their texting/tweeting/gaming/posting/surfing.

Seoul is hogging all the limelight at the moment, but what many have forgotten is that the southwestern Chinese metropolis of Chongqing ( 重慶 ) was the first to do something like this. It tried out a 50-metre stretch of pavement divided, tongue in cheek, into two lanes – one prohibiting mobile phone zombies and the other letting them be jerks at their own risk.

I’ve written about this problem in Hong Kong before, as have many others, but I see no effort to seek a solution. Unlike in Seoul, Hong Kong authorities keep no statistics of accidents caused by zombies and they’re way too passive and bureaucratic to try anything creative to tackle the issue.

In any case, I don’t think warning signs will work in Hong Kong. Our zombies are beyond redemption. They don’t need a gentle reminder; they need Ash Williams, the one-armed chainsaw-wielding protagonist of the Evil Dead franchise teaching them the lesson of their lives.

But seriously, let me break it down for you: if you absolutely must use your smartphone to “share” every mundane moment in your life on Facebook/Instagram, or watch the latest Korean drama dubbed in Chinese, or play Candy Crush, all in the middle of a moving crowd in this stressed-out city of ours, just pull over to the side and do it. It’s that simple.

If you feel it’s your divine right under the Basic Law to not have to give a damn, then consider yourself lucky that we have the rule of law here and you’re safe from the beat down you so richly deserve.

I have an idle fantasy about Hong Kong’s mobile phone zombies: they’re all lined up, thousands of them, and plunging off the top of Lion Rock one after another like so many lemmings; I’m helping them on the way down with my steel-toed work boots.

Who knows, dreams can come true. Until then, I’ll be a responsible citizen with my own smartphone and practise safe text.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post