Is Anyone Paying Attention?

If this post were written by Seth Godin, he’d probably give it a catchy name such as “Crosswalk Blues”, and then proceed to write a book and go on a lucrative speaking tour.

“Crosswalk Blues” is inspired by some recent experiences waiting for cars to stop when walking through my ‘hood recently. It used to be sticking out your hand was enough to get cars to stop so you could safely walk across the street.

Today, this technique doesn’t work any more. To prevent cars from speeding through the crosswalk, you have to press the button so the flashing lights come on, wave your arms furiously, and then do a few head fakes to show cars you intend to use the crosswalk. Even then, you need to tentatively tip-toe across the street in case someone didn’t grasp what you’re doing.

The reason this simple act has become so challenging is drivers aren’t paying attention to what’s around them – be it pedestrians, other cars or road signs. Instead, people are talking on their cell phones, checking out their GPS units, switching channels on their satellite radios, or checking e-mail on their Blackberrys and iPhones.

On the street, the proliferation of iPods and iPhones mean that many people are living in digital isolation, unaware of who or what is around them. Even worse are people riding bicycles whose iPods prevent them from hearing what’s going on.

And on the Web, the lack of attention or perhaps focus means that online service have one shot at getting people to check them out. If you miss that opportunity, multi-tasking computer users are quickly gone to the next service. What this means is many Web sites and online services need to be dumbed down so people with low attention spans can quickly grasp what’s going on.

Do not be surprised if companies start emulating Google with no-frills home pages that only offer one or two features. It may be the only way to successfully reach the unfocused.

The lack of attention is troubling but, ironically, no one seems to be paying much attention to it.

Update: It’s interesting to ESPN unveil a new design for aimed at decluttering.

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  • Rick

    I’ve been driving a fair bit lately and something I’ve noticed that’s a big problem is falsely flashing crosswalk lights. In one location in particular on Shuter there’s a crosswalk that seems to go off on it’s own every 5 minutes. After going past this crosswalk for several weeks and never seeing a person any where I find myself desensitized to it. I know it’s wrong and I still look, but I don’t slow down like I use to.

  • newmediaMike

    Even if you are cautious, you still have to watch out for the drivers who decide to pass a stopped car on the right at a crosswalk to get past the “lineup”.

    As for the ESPN site, I checked out the beta – all they did was move the clutter below the fold.

  • Ruth Seeley

    I’m appalled at how few drivers stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.

    In Vancouver we bribe the cyclists and pedestrians to push the button for us so we can get through some of the wacky intersections that have lights on only two of the corners (east/west but not north/south). Who came up with THAT system?

    Re Linked In, BTW – check out Bob Ledrew’s profile – it’s the best I’ve ever seen.

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  • Robleh

    Simplicity is the key for startups. It makes the product easier to understand for the user and easier to release for the developer. It also makes you focus on making something useful. A lot of startups I see are trying to do too much and aim at too many targets and end up being useful to nobody.