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The eyes have it... or they would if we used them.

I've been working in Finsbury Square and travelling around the City for four months now, and I've noticed something remarkable: nobody looks where they're going. When people walk along the pavement they look at their feet!

Or worse, but I'll come to that...

In London, and in the south of England generally, people try to avoid eye contact as much as possible. Perhaps because I didn't grow up down here, I don't feel as restricted as almost everyone else appears to be. I look where I'm going when I'm walking, and when I travel on the tube or train I look at the people around me. What I always see is people doing everything they can to avoid looking at anyone else.

It's interesting because I can adopt the role of an almost invisible observer - I can watch people's behaviour without any risk of them looking back. The north/south divide became really clear to me when I was in Sheffield recently. Sitting in a cafe waiting for my friends to show up I was idly watching some people at an adjoining table - who promptly challenged me by asking if there was a problem - that's never happened to me in London.

Normally whether people avoid eye contact or not is of behavioural interest only, but when I'm trying to walk quickly along a crowded street and everyone walking in the opposite direction is looking at the floor it makes a collision much more likely. I've become very adept at the sidestep manouvre to avoid them.

But the problem has been getting steadily worse because of the ubiquity of Blackberries and iPhones. Why do people think that blundering along the street trying to read, or worse, write emails while they're walking, and expecting everyone else to take avoiding action, is acceptable? I've even seen people doing this step out infront of traffic because they didn't look up!

I have an iPhone, and it's useful when I'm out and about. But I use it when I'm on the train, on the bus, in a cab or at a restaurant. On the odd occasions I have to read or write an email or a text message in the street I step aside, stand somewhere out of the way, and do it. Then I set off again for my destination. I don't usually get to my destination late.

*Rant on*

So please, when you're walking around the City, use your eyes to look where you're going.

You'll avoid getting hit by a bus, you'll get where you're going more quickly and you'll avoid inconveniencing, or colliding with, the rest of us going about our own business and trying to share the space.

*Rant off*



Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 05 November, 2009, 14:23Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I agree completely. It's worse than ever. As I have said to people before, the blackberry is the sober person's excuse for failing to walk in a straight line.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 10 November, 2009, 11:36Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Agree totally!!  Nowhere in the world  (not even in New york, where people are supposedly so rude) do so many pedestrians walk right into me as in London (at 6'2" and 16st I hope I'm visible!!).  Sometimes it seems like people walk on a diagonal just to get in the way.... especially if I'm carrrying groceries!!  Great post.

Nick Green
Nick Green - ISD Consultants - Northampton 10 November, 2009, 16:25Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I suppose you could say I'm from the north as well - well north of Watford anyway. I totally agree all these crackberries & iplods wandering around and would add why does everyone look so bloody miserable on the tube? A bunch of associates meet in London each quarter for a Grumpy Old Man day that involves Food and Beer. You should see the looks we get on the tube because we are having fun!

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