Column: Stop and smell the crosswalks

By Jenette Sturges

Two weeks ago, I was walking back from class to my house, fidgeting with my iPod and organizing the rest of my day in my head, when I stumbled upon a sparkling yellow plot of street. It read, “Look” with arrows pointing in either direction and pupils in the Os.

I stopped and stared at it. Then I looked both ways, and proceeded to cross the street.

Of course, I generally look both ways before crossing a street – and I assumed everyone else did too, until I came to college. Here I’ve witnessed head-on collisions between people and cars, people and MTD buses, people and bikes, people and other people, people and Razor scooters, and even once, a person and a squirrel.

Not to mention bikes and cars and all the other combinations possible between all the other creatures and means of conveyance on this campus.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I mastered road-crossing skills at approximately the same time I learned to tie my shoes (then again, I suppose this could explain the popularity of laceless Ugg boots on campus as well).

The University and the cities of Urbana and Champaign have invested much time, energy and money to make the campus safer following the death of Sarah Channick. While they have taken on a noble cause, marking the roads in sparkly paint and attaching strobe lights to turning buses, which already have blinking indicators, shouldn’t really be necessary.

Yet again, the University has become a microcosm for trends affecting the rest of American society. Hair dryers have warnings to remind people not to use them in the bathtub. McDonald’s, after multiple lawsuits, now writes “Caution, Hot” in bigger font on their coffee cups. If they were smart, they might also consider putting labels on Big Macs warning people that the excess calories and fat grams could eventually lead to obesity.

This is idiot proofing. Whether it’s not paying attention to traffic on the road, or not using common sense when mixing electronics and water, it seems that American society has become dumbed down to the point of utter stupidity.

In the past, life-endangering actions didn’t involve spilled coffee or overeating, but were largely confined to dangerous professions like factory work and farming. So what are the possible reasons for the growing lack of attentiveness, reason and logic on campus and in the nation?

Perhaps it has something to do with the current concentration on teaching to standardized math and reading tests, leaving no class time for important life lessons like looking both ways at busy crosswalks. Maybe the high levels of environmental toxins are damaging our brains and their abilities to reason and act with common sense.

But, if I had to guess, I would say that it’s most likely that we have other things on our minds – papers, midterms and work projects. Personally, it’s not uncommon for me to walk around campus brainstorming papers, planning my week, dancing to music and eating something – all at once. We’re not unintelligent, just busy. The fast pace of college life demands that we multi-task every waking minute. While this may be the only way we can cram every aspect of our lives into 24-hour days, it will inevitably be our downfall.

People drinking coffee while driving and drying their hair in the tub are just multitasking. Odds are, as you read this, you are also walking to class, eating your breakfast, or thinking about something else.

Well, stop it. If you can’t pay attention to multiple tasks simultaneously, just for once, give yourself a break, put down your distractions and just experience the world around you – the smell of the autumn leaves, the sight of the scampering squirrels and the warm breeze of the speeding bus crossing the street ahead of you.

Slow down. It might just save your sanity, and your life.

Jenette Sturges is a junior in LAS. Her column appears every Tuesday. She can be reached at [email protected]