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Cellphone users and clowns
October 20, 2009 9:06 AM   Subscribe

"Using a cell phone while walking is so distracting that people are likely to miss a clown riding a unicycle."
posted by needled (68 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
And?
posted by odinsdream at 9:11 AM on October 20, 2009


"It's not everyday you have a student like that," Hyman said.

Have these people ever been to college?
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:12 AM on October 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


And?
Now imagine them driving a car. The cellphone user, not the clown.
posted by Electric Dragon at 9:14 AM on October 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


People talking on their cell phones probably have more important things on their mind than clowns, unicycle or not.
posted by ymgve at 9:14 AM on October 20, 2009


Yesterday morning, as I walked down Mass Ave, I saw some doofus on a cell phone walk out in front of a fire chief's official SUV while it was doing about 45 and had the lights and siren going and then not even make an attempt to scurry out of the way. Sadly, the fire chief is more professional than I.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:14 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


People are often easier to distract than you might imagine. In this clip from Mind Control with Derren Brown, people don't notice (or realize after the fact) that the person they were giving directions to had swapped out with someone else. Of course, the show could have picked the best shows of people being oblivious.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:16 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


no way. I walk while talking on the cellphone every day, and I'm positive I've never seen a clown riding a unicycle. there's no way I missed that.
posted by shmegegge at 9:18 AM on October 20, 2009


"Have you ever seen a clown riding a unicycle while you talk on the phone?"

"You will"
posted by blue_beetle at 9:18 AM on October 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Cell phone ads are getting stranger every day.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:20 AM on October 20, 2009


I would love, love to see an fMRI study done (with a sufficient number of subjects this time, I want n > 60 for once) comparing what portions of the brain light up driving vs. walking, combined with silence, listening to the radio, fiddling with a drink, conversing with someone in the flesh, and finally conversing over cell phones and Bluetooth headsets.

My ongoing guess about this is that it is hard to understand people on cell phones, particularly voice-activated headsets where everything is crushed down to the minimum sounds necessary for comprehension. Decompressing this in your brain, dealing with background noise, and filling in the attack portions of a given sound envelope starting a word, all of these occupy so much CPU time (yeah, I know, the mind is not a computer, it's a freakin' analogy) that the distraction factor is far more than what we would assume from just chattering away with a pal.

I do love watching students reduced to Bluetooth zombies — eyes glazed, shuffling about, slow to react, mumbling. I use to dodge out of their way and whatnot, but after having them slither through doors I've opened for myself without noticing I exist, I find it far more entertaining not to duck out of the way and just let them bounce off of me as I discreetly (and dickly) plant one foot back. They look about with the daze of a pedestrian banging into an invisible obelisk suddenly planted in the sidewalk. "What's going on here? Where did that come from?"

Also, a few brightly marked bear traps would be nice.

The adoption of responsibilities typically lags behind claiming rights, and the use of a tool happens far faster than manners of the time can adapt. Still, a critical part of developing and enforcing etiquette in the clueless is a certain firm resistance on the part of others, and I will be there, with inertia and Sketchers-granted static friction, to make sure it happens.
posted by adipocere at 9:20 AM on October 20, 2009 [10 favorites]


That's strange, but not as strange as the time when I saw a clown on a unicycle and there wasn't a single cellphone in sight! It was crazy, man!
posted by Spatch at 9:23 AM on October 20, 2009


It's not that they're distracted; it's that if there's one thing more terrifying (to some) than a clown, it's a clown constantly adjusting it's balance.
posted by schleppo at 9:24 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


People talking on their cell phones probably have more important things on their mind than clowns, unicycle or not.

Um, not based on the five hundred or so cell phone conversations I'm forced to overhear every time I go to the bar, the movies, the park, the Y, the coffee house, etc.
posted by barrett caulk at 9:26 AM on October 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


My cell phone is the primary weapon in my arsenal for ignoring mimes. Nice to know it'll work on clowns too.
posted by grounded at 9:27 AM on October 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


If I were walking across a car-free quad, in no particular hurry, there's lots of things I might do that I wouldn't do while driving a car. Because the risks are lower.

I might check email on my phone, weaving slowly around people, and miss catching a glimpse of my roommate coming the other way. Not a big deal.

I wouldn't check that same email while driving a car (esp. through a busy intersection).

Is it possible, then, that people talking on the phone while walking through a quad allow themselves to be more distracted than those same people talking on the phone while driving?
posted by dontoine at 9:28 AM on October 20, 2009


Avoiding eye contact with clowns is not a sign of distraction, it's a sign of self-preservation.
posted by Legomancer at 9:30 AM on October 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Flipped around, this just confirms my belief that the sole purpose of riding a unicycle is to attract attention.
posted by COBRA! at 9:30 AM on October 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


And?

This comment came via cellphone.
posted by philip-random at 9:31 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't believe the science that using a cellphone is particularly distracting.

I'm talking on my clown right now and I'm pretty sure I'd notice a cycle riding by on a cellphone.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:31 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was going to post this, too. The interesting part is when they compared people who were on the phone versus people who were talking to someone with them and people who were plugged into an ipod.

"The cell-phone users were less than half as likely to notice the clown as those listening to music players or single individuals without any electronics." So it's not just being in a conversation or being plugged into an audio device, but a combo of the two that puts people into their own world.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:34 AM on October 20, 2009


This experiment is not a new idea. I can remember watching a film and being told to concentrate on the people juggling balls in the centre of the picture. In the middle of this walks a man in a gorilla suit that the scientists claimed goes un-noticed by the majority of viewers.

I was working in the field of road-safety for 15 years and this type of research only reinforces the claims made by RoSPA and the like as to the dangers of cell-phone usage behind the wheel. In the UK any evidence of cell-phone usage in a crash investigation automatically attracts a dangerous driving charge.
posted by cameronfromedinburgh at 9:36 AM on October 20, 2009


And?

If you don't notice a clown when walking and talking on a cell-phone, then it really isn't safe to drive while talking on a cell-phone.

So don't answer your phone while driving, and if you need to make a call, pull over.
posted by jb at 9:37 AM on October 20, 2009


By my reading, plenty of people just walking across the square without any obvious distraction also didn't see the clown. So it's not like this was a situation where people *should* take notice of him/her. Given that, it seems silly to assert that people notice things that require their attention more than they notice things that don't require their attention. That's...... sort of the definition of attention......

And any parallels to driving seem silly. Driving requires your attention or you die. Failing to notice an idiot in a clown suit, while on a campus, is hardly going to put your life in danger. it's not the same sort of attention or distraction.

This specific study seems like ha-ha science more than it does anything useful. And I think a better study might be one that calculates the ability of science students to not be distracted by ha-ha science when studying tings that might get people killed.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:42 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I spend a lot of time on the cell talking to clients, people who need my help. I look both ways crossing the street and I don't run into anyone. But I'm not going to look at your stupid stunt. Sorry.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:42 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


So it's not just being in a conversation or being plugged into an audio device, but a combo of the two that puts people into their own world.

I was just about to post something like this. I think the deal is that you are always in a "shared world" with your interlocutor, but on a cellphone that shared world doesn't include your physical surroundings.

When I'm walking down the sidewalk with you and a clown unicycles past, we both get distracted, both realize the other person was distracted and then either acknowledge ("huh") or agree to ignore ("anyway....") the distraction. When I'm on the cellphone, I may momentarily notice something but I also realize that you don't, so I don't engage my "what should I do about this distraction we are both having" circuit.
posted by DU at 9:44 AM on October 20, 2009


> People talking on their cell phones probably have more important things on their mind than clowns, unicycle or not.

lol
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:49 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno, this sounds like a better outcome than hitting a clown on a unicycle.
posted by chrismear at 9:50 AM on October 20, 2009


I smell an Ignobel Prize here.
posted by Gungho at 9:53 AM on October 20, 2009


An interesting study, but it somehow fails to examine the far greater risk staring it in the face. To wit: To what degree is a clown's ability to ride a unicycle impaired by talking on a cellphone at the same time?

Is it statistically significant who the clown is talking to?

Like maybe if it's another clown there's no discernable impairment, but if the clown's talking to, say, a seal balancing a ball on its nose, the clown's weaving all over the place like some Bluetooth jackass in heavy traffic . . .

. . . in any case, the best preventive measure is probably to punish drive-and-chat offenders by making them wear clown costumes, so you see them coming - unless you're so distracted talking on your cellphone you miss the whole circus . . .

posted by gompa at 9:53 AM on October 20, 2009


I dunno, but when I walk around a place I know a lot, that tends to have a lot of activity, I usually ignore the street theatre. Once one gets used to a certain level and type of public behaviour it can be easy to block it all out. I really don't need a phone to allow me to block out a clown on a unicycle when I'm getting somewhere by myself in a familiar milieu.

Sometimes, when I'm walking, I'm /walking/. Like, get out of my way because I'm going somewhere, and I have no need or want to be mindful or smell the clowns. If I'm on the phone, this is doubly true. I could block out most other humans without thinking about it, regardless of how they dressed or their mode of transportation. It just isn't interesting or novel enough, at least on most campuses or busy streets I'm used to.

Drop an odd animal or weird device in my view, however, and there are few conversations that will cause me to not take notice. I'm guessing most people are selective like this, to some greater or lesser degree.

I'm sure that talking on a phone is distracting, especially while driving. I'm just not sure this experiment proves that.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:58 AM on October 20, 2009


> Failing to notice an idiot in a clown suit, while on a campus, is hardly going to put your life in danger.

It's not the idiots in clown suits you have to worry about.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:59 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sure I've ignored plenty of clowns on unicycles, given that I live in Cambridge. Are researchers really allowed to refer to college students as "clowns" in their reports? I thought they're supposed to hide their prejudices.
posted by explosion at 10:09 AM on October 20, 2009


"Using a cell phone while walking is so distracting that people are likely to miss a clown riding a unicycle."

And it is important that you don't miss the clown, but you hit them dead on.
posted by mazola at 10:13 AM on October 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it seems like shit-science to say "If you missed a clown while walking, then driving while on a cell phone is dangerous."

I mean, other studies have shown that driving while using a cell phone results in decreased blahblahblah, so I'm not disagreeing with the assertion. But if I'm walking and on the phone, then "making sure I see clowns" isn't even in the top brazillion things I want to do. If I'm talking on a phone and driving, then "making sure I see all the cars around me" and "making sure I see all the pedestrians around me" are wayyyyyy at the top of the list.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:20 AM on October 20, 2009


"It's not the idiots in clown suits you have to worry about."

The study wasn't about driving. It was about whether people doing something completely safe would ignore things that have nothing to do with what they are concentrating on.

I don't think anyone is suggesting it's safe to drive while talking on the phone. The problem with this study is that it tries to make a case for that based on bad science. It's basically saying that things that you do while strolling in the park can be used to predict your reaction time in LA traffic.

Trust me, driving in LA traffic is no walk in the park.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:21 AM on October 20, 2009


My ongoing guess about this is that it is hard to understand people on cell phones, particularly voice-activated headsets where everything is crushed down to the minimum sounds necessary for comprehension. Decompressing this in your brain, dealing with background noise, and filling in the attack portions of a given sound envelope starting a word, all of these occupy so much CPU time (yeah, I know, the mind is not a computer, it's a freakin' analogy) that the distraction factor is far more than what we would assume from just chattering away with a pal.

I would add to this that on a phone you don't have the benefit of non-verbal cues which normally aid us a great deal in comprehension and communication. on a Cell conversation you've got to do all of that through through the words themselves.
posted by jadayne at 10:24 AM on October 20, 2009


What if I'm on a unicycle talking on a cell phone. Will I see a clown walking past?

In an experiment like this, all variables should he accounted for.
posted by chambers at 10:28 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't wait to see the follow study that shows that people texting while walking do not notice clowns (or buses or trains) either.
posted by birdherder at 10:37 AM on October 20, 2009


True story: I used to check my email on my HP48 connected to a 2m packet radio TNC while riding on my unicycle. Operating all of the equipment was rather distracting, so I might not have noticed anyone else on a unicycle at the same time, even if they were wearing a clown wig.
posted by autopilot at 10:40 AM on October 20, 2009


> The study wasn't about driving. It was about whether people doing something completely safe would ignore things that have nothing to do with what they are concentrating on.

All of the articles I linked to were about pedestrians who stepped into the path of buses, trucks and trains (which you would think would be even harder to miss than a clown on a unicycle) while talking on cell phones. Walking is safe, but walking while using cell phones or iPods and surrounded by traffic is somewhat less so. Hell, I almost got myself hit by a car last year crossing against a red light while wearing my iPod.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:56 AM on October 20, 2009


"Using a cell phone while walking is so distracting that people are likely to miss a clown riding a unicycle."

That sounds like a feature, not a bug.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:03 AM on October 20, 2009


By my reading, plenty of people just walking across the square without any obvious distraction also didn't see the clown.

Agreed. I've gotten a lot of stories from before the days cell phones even existed of either me or my friends walking right past something completely bizarre and just not registering it for a full two blocks, before turning around and realizing, "Wait....that guy I passed was totally naked from the waist down/dressed like Batman/wearing a tree branch tied to his head/Quentin Tarantino".

On the other hand, though, usually it was because we were distracted by something else, like a person-to-person conversation, trying to make the subway...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:16 AM on October 20, 2009


Hell, I almost got myself hit by a car last year crossing against a red light while wearing my iPod.

The iPod is not the critical element in that anecdote. "Crossing against a red light" is.
posted by stevis23 at 11:21 AM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Look, I get it. Everyone loves their gadgets, including me. I almost never leave the house without my iPod. No-one wants to believe there's any potential downside to them, because they're awesome. But the lengths people will go to to deny that there's any merit to the idea that you might just be distracted to some degree while using them astounds me. Let me ask you this; if you were having open-heart surgery, would you mind if the surgeon had an unrelated chat on a hands-free cell phone during the operation?
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:33 AM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


What this really shows is the inverse relationship between the number of people with cellphones and the profitability of the circus.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:33 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hope to be able to ride a unicycle some day.
posted by everichon at 11:43 AM on October 20, 2009


I can't wait to see the follow study that shows that people texting while walking do not notice clowns (or buses or trains) either.

... or open manholes.

I've gotten a lot of stories from before the days cell phones even existed of either me or my friends walking right past something completely bizarre and just not registering it for a full two blocks .... On the other hand, though, usually it was because we were distracted by something else, like a person-to-person conversation, trying to make the subway...

Yes, the issue here is "distraction", most prevalent form of mental disease in these information and sensation overloaded times. Any guru will tell you: "Be Here Now". That is, live in the moment, smell the flowers etc. Cellphones, texting etc, because they put your consciousness other than where you are (ie: with whoever it is you're in conversation), are necessarily distracting technologies and, as such, should not be engaged whilst operating heavy machinery, crossing against red lights, transporting deadly toxins etc.
posted by philip-random at 12:12 PM on October 20, 2009


One of the wisest people I know maintains so many people use so many cell phones so much of the time not because they're on-call, popular, have to service multiple clients simultaneously, etc., but because they're lonesome.
posted by Forrest Greene at 12:39 PM on October 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


I spend a lot of time on the cell talking to clients, people who need my help. I look both ways crossing the street and I don't run into anyone. But I'm not going to look at your stupid stunt. Sorry.

Do you drive on your cell as well?
posted by davejay at 12:53 PM on October 20, 2009


"All of the articles I linked to were about pedestrians who stepped into the path of buses, trucks and trains"

Right....... well...... This post is about people walking in the campus square. I have no idea how things are where you went to school, but I doubt they drove trains through the quad.

"if you were having open-heart surgery, would you mind if the surgeon had an unrelated chat on a hands-free cell phone during the operation?"

If I'm somehow persuaded to have open-heart surgery outside, in the middle of the campus square, surrounded by people rushing to class, next to a fountain with a clown riding a unicycle.......... At that point I don't think it would take much more to talk me into having the doctor talk on a phone as well.

Here's what I think. People who are idiots tend to be the ones talking on their phones while driving. And idiots are more likely to get to car wrecks. Anyone stupid enough to be chatting on the phone while driving is already not a safe driver before they took the call.

Can we please drop the bad science and back away? This study has nothing to do with driving. Nothing. All it does is confirm that people paying attention to something don't pay as much attention to other things. We didn't need a study to show that. It's inherent in the nature of focusing one's attention.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:55 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


However, if you consider that a good chunk of these people either have clown-phobias, or go into an unnatural state of rage at the sight of a clown and feel the need to pummel him and his little unicycle, or better yet pummel him with the unicycle ... well, then I consider the cellphone to be an instrument of progress.
posted by mannequito at 12:57 PM on October 20, 2009


Oh FFS, the point of this isn't that you cell-walkers/drivers are so sophisticated that you're most likely just ignoring the proles and their street-theatre-antics while you debate Kant on the phone with Nobel Laureates - you wouldn't have noticed a thing if the clown was also pointing an assault rifle at a baby carriage, or at you, or whatever.

The point is that it's DISTRACTING AS SHIT, much more so than any other similar thing... and no, you are not the one person who is just so coordinated or important or awesome that you can chat away without an issue - you're actually just the same as every other ass on the road who thinks the exact same thing before they do all the retarded things that you don't notice yourself doing.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:06 PM on October 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Can we please drop the bad science and back away? This study has nothing to do with driving.

No, it's about walking. That's obvious. However, what's the biggest danger for pedestrians? You know the answer!
posted by mrgrimm at 1:15 PM on October 20, 2009


Clowns?
posted by 23skidoo at 1:16 PM on October 20, 2009



I love the argument (often by legislators) that yes, using a cell phone while driving is a dangerous distraction. But a hands free voice activated cell phone is not a distraction.
posted by notreally at 1:29 PM on October 20, 2009


I'm pretty sure the kid that turn left in front of my husband 2 yrs ago was texting or on his phone somehow. I don't know for sure, but something like that was in the police report. My husband, the kindest, gentlest man in the world, much loved, was killed and we miss him terribly.
posted by brneyedgrl at 1:44 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


So the clowns are real? I always assumed these were just hallucinations caused by the brain tumor I've developed from using a cel phone. What about the giant bats?
posted by doctor_negative at 1:57 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Using a cell phone while walking is so distracting that people are likely to miss a clown riding a unicycle.

I'm just glad that President Bush managed to find a job in this tough economy.
Please. He couldn't handle a Segway. No way he manages a unicycle.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:01 PM on October 20, 2009


I live in a pretty touristy part of town. I probably wouldn't look twice if I saw a clown on a unicycle.
posted by joelf at 2:16 PM on October 20, 2009


if you were having open-heart surgery, would you mind if the surgeon had an unrelated chat on a hands-free cell phone during the operation?

Dude, I don't know about hands-free, but on Grey's Anatomy the doctors are always chatting about their personal lives during operations. You can't argue with prime-time TV.
posted by Hoopo at 2:22 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I'm riding a clown and see a cellphone on a unicy...aw forget it.
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:43 PM on October 20, 2009


Maybe they should use a more visible clown?
posted by chavenet at 4:04 PM on October 20, 2009


“Now imagine them driving a car. The cellphone user, not the clown.”

You might miss and have to get him with the door.

(Clown on a unicycle in a quad, that’s gotta be two, three thousand points.)
posted by Smedleyman at 4:25 PM on October 20, 2009


And what happens if a bunch of Mimes suddenly show up?
posted by philip-random at 4:38 PM on October 20, 2009


If you miss the mimes, you back up and drive at them again.
posted by Limiter at 10:32 PM on October 20, 2009


It took cell chatters nearly 83 seconds to cross, while single participants without any electronic devices crossed in about 75 seconds and those with music players took some 74 seconds on average.
I wonder if the one second difference between unhooked walkers and music listeners is significant? If so, is it the music that makes them walk faster?
posted by Karmakaze at 6:56 AM on October 21, 2009


Situational Awareness should be taught starting in preschool.
posted by Eideteker at 8:27 AM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


We soon will have laws against texting and driving to go along with the laws against talking on the cell phone and driving, yet we still see people fretting over their hair and or makeup while driving?

We don't need new laws, we need the correct interpretation and application of existing laws.
posted by HyperBlue at 1:16 PM on October 21, 2009


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