Smart Phones, Dumb People: Cycling and Selfies Don't Mix

Smart Phones, Dumb People: Cycling and Selfies Don't Mix

Don’t play in traffic. Keep an eye on oncoming vehicles. Look both ways before before stepping into the street.

Simple parental wisdom seems lost on the dumb people wielding smart phones at the Tour de France. As technology advances common sense regresses. Tour leader Vincenzo Nibali learned this the hard way on Thursday en route to winning his fourth overall stage.

Nibali increased his lead in the Tour de France on Thursday by winning the 18th stage of the race in the Pyrenees. If the grueling 90-mile mountain climb weren’t difficult enough, Nibali had to navigate a gauntlet of fans more interested in their cell phones than the cycling. Nibali collided with a woman standing in the road with her back to traffic. Thankfully, the woman’s cell phone flew into the road upon encountering the Italian’s left arm. The rider and the bystander appeared uninjured. One hopes for a less clean bill of health for the electronic nuisance.

Several people preoccupied with their phones have caused accidents at the 2014 race. Lithuanian Ramunas Navardauskas intentionally knocked the cell phone out of the hand of a spectator oblivious that the action occurred on the road instead of in a phone. “More and more people definitely have their backs to the race,” American rider Alex Howes told The New York Times earlier this month. “I think things in the camera are closer than they appear. They need to put a disclaimer on the iPhone or something.”

Devices aren’t solely to blame. On Wednesday, a human being without the excuse of a machine knocked Australian Luke Durbridge off his bike. A helper tried to provide water for the Spanish team of riders but instead de-biked a competitor. A downed Durbridge pushed back then quickly resumed riding.

The greatness of the Tour de France stems in part from the lack of barriers separating spectators from competitors. There’s no plexiglass or outfield wall keeping the watchers from the doers. Fans are right there. But the device-addicted are never quite where they are. Nibali’s oblivious impediment looked away, and talked away to someone far away, as the leader of one of the planet’s premier races whizzed past. One can stand in the front row and still miss out.

It’s bad enough that many view sports primarily as entertainment rather than activity. Now the vicarious thrill of watching drifts further from the actual event. Taking in the experience increasingly means further removing oneself by another degree from the experience and documenting one’s presence. Texting, tweeting, cell-phone videos, and cell-phone selfies all serve to paradoxically extract a spectator from the spectacle as they make the spectator part of the spectacle. The Tour de France becomes not about Nibali but about how close one gets to Nibali. OMG! Check me out! Look where I am! =)

Why not give all the fans a yellow shirt and surround them with two knockouts, too? After all, they participate in one-upmanship competition as well.

The Tour de France has dealt with the problem of the dopers. Now it must rescue the race from the dopes.