Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Zombie Spring

It's the first day of spring, but it has felt like spring for weeks already. Global warming is well upon us. All these unseasonably balmy days have forced the flowers and pressured the trees to bud before their time. The downsides, of course, are coastal flooding, mass extinction, and malnutrition due to falling crop yields. In New York City, the warming has also brought about the unfortunate premature return of smartphone zombies.

(In winter, when cold nips at fingers, there's not so much sidewalk texting or talking, and we get a needed break from the scourge. I miss winter.)

iZombie illustration by Victor Kerlow

All the attendant ducking and weaving on the sidewalks has me thinking about Chuck Closterman's essay "My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead," published in the New York Times in December 2010--and stuck in my mind ever since.

In that essay, he makes an eloquent argument about the rising popularity of zombies and how, with their computer-like brains and lack of consciousness, they've become an allegory for the way our day-to-day existence feels. He writes, "It’s not that zombies are changing to fit the world’s condition; it’s that the condition of the world seems more like a zombie offensive." And that offensive, concludes Closterman, is the Internet and email.

see more zombies here

But there are also zombies walking among us. You see them every day. They are attached to the Internet and electronic communications--you might even say they are humanoid extensions of the Internet.

Drifting down the sidewalk, gazing into electronic devices, iZombies are the living dead, constantly and mindlessly consuming. They lack consciousness. And, yes, they do eat brains. How many times have you tried to think while on the street or the bus, or in a cafe, only to have your thoughts snatched away by a loud-talking zombie on a cell phone or by a collision with a walking iPhone ghoul? The thought is gone--the zombie gobbled it up.

They're trying to turn us all into zombies by devouring our minds. The only way to shield yourself from them is to become like them--to turn on the iPod or tuck into the iPhone. Of course, the manufacturers of these devices want us all to be zombies. Zombies don't think, they shop. They'll stand in line for hours to buy electronics, cupcakes, hamburgers, shoes, whatever the Hive Leader tells them to desire.

Without an iPhone, I have to "play zombie" to keep them away from me. When I see them coming towards me, I look down and twiddle my thumbs in front of my chest, as if I'm texting, even though my hands are empty. "I'm an iZombie like you," this gesture says. "Don't hurt me." This fools them. They think I am one of them and they veer away. If I don't perform this empty-handed thumb twiddling, they will aim right at me.

When a texting zombie comes at you from behind, you will know them from the sound of their shuffling, stuttering steps, their weaving, jerky gait. They sound like zombies. In this situation, you have a few options (I have tried all three): 1. Run away to put distance between you and the zombie. 2. Stop short and brace for impact, thereby deflecting the zombie. 3. Start walking like a zombie--step left then suddenly right, stop and start again, weave from side to side. The zombie will tire of this and go around you.

Since Closterman's essay, zombies have become even more popular. They are everywhere. There's that Walking Dead show and the Zombie Crawls. In New York City, Ricky's pushed zombies as a personal ethos of cool with the slogans, "Zombies: Looking Dead. Feeling Good" and "Own Your Inner Zombie."

Somehow, zombies have become sex symbols.

There are zombie sex toys that simulate rotting genitals, because what's more exciting than intercourse with an animated corpse?

Of course, zombies are having sex with each other, not just silicone bits. A zombie doesn't want to be with a non-zombie and vice versa. The non-zombie might want to have an actual relationship, with real intimacy, or at least conversation, while the zombie would rather plug parts into other parts and send a bunch of text messages back and forth--sometimes simultaneously.

When zombies mate, they make baby zombies. Making a human baby into a zombie is simple--just give it electronic devices to play with and then ignore it. Its already primitive brain will wither quickly, along with its capacity for empathy. Soon it will want the same things all zombies want--mindless distraction and communal stupidity. It will aim to destroy thought because thought is frightening. It will grow up to devour the brains of non-zombies.

More zombies are coming every day. How will you protect your brain?

(Here's an idea--read more novels. They stimulate your brain, increase your empathy, and foster prosocial behavior--unlike, you know, "socially disruptive" narcissistic activities like updating your Facebook page.)


  1. My answer is just don't read novels, WRITE them as well! I do it. So they come out on Kindle and Nook at least I am saying something to the dead, that's better than what are doing, drifting zombie like through the city.

  2. I have caught myself recently being a zombie for a few seconds before at least stopping against a nearby wall until I've sent a message or whatnot.

    But I know I am not a zombie full-on because zombies never ever say 'whatnot'. That comes from a culture they are completely unfamiliar with---namely, anything that happened before they were a cognizant child.

  3. Start a blog! Haha. Uh, but seriously... I've discovered that there is some sort of iPhone magnet inside my body. Even when I sidestep to avoid a texter on the sidewalk, the zombie veers course and continues toward me, ultimately crashing into me only to continue on without looking up or saying a word. I tried wrapping my body in foil and lead. Aside from being uncomfortable, these things just don't work.

    But you know what works? I carry a Nokia 5110 from 1997. Something primal inside the zombies takes hold when they sense some technology so old... so useless ... they snap to attention and shoot me a look of disdain, like "LOSER," sometimes even making an L with their thumb and index finger. And they steer clear of me.

    Amazing. Wish I could take a photo of it. But the dumb Nokia 5110 doesn't have a camera.

    1. I'm smarter than my phone too. It's an oldie, an Italian Pirelli.

  4. I like The Walking Dead series. There are a lot of metaphors in it and a social commentary of what the world today is like. The show even had line "it's like Times Square out there" when an area of a city was swarmed with literal zombies.

    As for these iZombies, I just bump into them (i mean I don't seek them out, but I don't yield to them, esp. if I have the right of way) or call them out on one shouldn't walk and text esp. if crossing the street. There was one instance where a woman was running (because she was late for something) and texting and pushed me from behind so that she can overtake me. But as soon as she had overtaken me, she started to walk slow so that she can text to the point where I caught up with her at which point I told here that she shouldn't run and text esp. if she's late for something. The look that I got from her was befuddlement as in either "hmm..you're right" or "I didn't expect anyone would say such a thing to me". Nonetheless, I don't give a flying f*ck anymore if I get a nasty response. It's just common sense, really.

    And there was one time where I almost got hit by car while waiting for the light to change at a street-corner when an iZombie accidentally pushed me from behind since he was not paying attention while he was finagling with his iShit. Someone (not the iZombie) had to grab me from behind to be not hit by the car.

    Apologies for my rant. And to quote JFranzen from How To Be Alone "Imagine that human existence is defined by an Ache: the Ache of our not being, each of us, the center of the universe; of our desires forever outnumbering our means of satisfying them."

  5. Love the Walking Dead series. I too dread cellular/ishit zombies just as much as the next bloke. I'm horrified by them on the roads, and find myself changing lanes more often than necessary to avoid their swerving. Or if I'm behind them, I pass them, for I can't stand their constant "break, gas, break, gas, break, shreaking halt, gas" routines; while fiddling on their phones/ishit/worthless little distraction junk. Just because its been made illegal in most states, doesn't mean that people don't do it anymore.

    Its nice to know that there's someone out there who is just as disgusted with this growing epidemic, and enough to write an entire blog page about it. A good humored page to boot. ^.^

    Have you seen the "anti-zombie" folk? They are hilarious! Some of them actually believe that the living dead are real, and that they are responsible for the collapsing economy, affordable housing/health coverage, etc.

    Its nice to see there are people on the internet that actually have live brain cells. ^.-

  6. Every time I go to answer my phone outside, I get a horrible feeling that the Grumbler is lurking in the bushes, snapping my picture.

    Seriously, though, I pull over to the right out of respect to everyone else. I see a few people do this, but not really. The majority of the time, a zombie comes right at me I have yet to hear an apology when any of these idiots bashes into me. My favorites are the ones who never look up when I hold a door open for them - they just waltz through like royalty. Their texts must be utterly fascinating.

    Just wait for the iHelmet! It will mean complete street blindness/deafness, while keeping hands free for coffee and hot dogs.

  7. why should you care about these people & what they do? i understand its a nightmare to HEAR conversations all day. that you cant help. (texting is a relief, let them text). let them have accidents, shove them out of the way if you have too. walk briskly & forget them. ok now we vote: new york is a busy place w/high powered career people. but, what % of these texts & cell phone conversations are important? most of what i have heard goes like this: "im on lex & 53rd, on getting on the bus" "hi im stopping for a frankfuter, bus is coming" "im getting on the bus youre breaking up" "yeah so we just left the gap, we are heading to bananna, ok call you later" imagine all day doing this! vote in, & is this a compulsion? remember it is a conscious CHOICE. maybe it took the place of smoking? after all it was a trend to stop. maybe this keeps the hands busy. comments anyone??

  8. in the bushes! i take pictures of the iZombies mostly because it gives me a false feeling of control over them, when usually i feel at their mercy.

    i also enjoy giving them an elbow.

    and when they do say "sorry" it never really sounds sincere.

  9. My phone may rival EV Grieve's in ugliness & age. It is a vile maroon color & keeps way both zombies & muggers. Being an object of device-disdain allows one a certain amount of peace. I keep the phone turned off a lot of the time too, which is even more peaceful.
    I think part of the Zombie disease is a real fear of being alone with one's thoughts, or of experiencing life independently. It seems very conformist & anxious. Isn't half the pleasure of the city anonymous bliss? Wandering & watching & being accountable to no-one at all?

  10. Yes, fear of being alone. Don't we all know that? But when you're forced to be alone for just a bit, to accept and then engage the silence, then maybe that building over there, this sign, these streets, these milling people, the geometry of it, the sounds and smells of it, all become your companions, and some your dear friends.

  11. When walking, I simply treat others as if they were not on mobile devices, whether or not they are. I expect people to pay attention to the same extent. I do not make adjustments for the erratic behavior of the zombies. In most cases, they wake up enough to avoid collisions. Once in a while, a collision happens; not my fault. Perhaps it helps that I am usually the most imposing person on the sidewalk, though, so that makes being an urban-etiquette enforcer easier.

  12. I hate smart phones (I guess mostly because I don't own one) but if I did I wouldn't spend my time looking at a screen or texting while walking because THIS IS NYC. I pay so god-damned much to live here I actually want to see and interact with actual people on the street, at least to observe them. I don't get it. In one of the most visually interesting places to live they'd rather stare down at a tiny screen. AT LEAST YEILD. Anyway, amazing post. Got me laughing at all the insanity!

  13. I find that rude behavior cancels rude behavior. If someone is i-phoning and mindlessly bumps into you and doesn't respond or look up then you should cough as hard as you can in their face.

    Bonus points if you sneeze.

    Works for sidewalk hogs as well. Those people who walk side by side in a brigade red rover style eating up any available space for you to side step or pass them graciously.

  14. There really are zombies all over this city. But I've noticed that they *will* snap out of it if something somehow manages to divert them--even briefly--from their phone call/texting/iPod reverie. I saw one chick go from zombie to snarling maniac in 2.5 seconds after a bus driver slammed on the horn while she was jaywalking.

    It was quite an interesting experience, watching the transition from Walking Dead to Vicious She-Demon.

  15. Grumbler, I am conflicted. For I am slowly becoming zombified. I can feel it. I can feel it. More and more I look into my smart phone when I am waiting in line at the store, waiting for a bus or train. Occasionally it is rote and mind-numbing, but more often it is enjoyment to play my word puzzles, check my email, exchange texts with my sweetheart. look at photos of my dog. And if it helps me to shut out the irritation and sense overload of living in the city then even better. I am old enough to remember life before handheld devices. What did we do in those moments of tedium? Alone with our own thoughts and comtemplations of the world around us. Well maybe I've had enough of the world of the city. Maybe I'm no longer fascinated by the everyday this and that and maybe this is the necessity that has spawned the invention of the smart phone. I just don't know anymore.

  16. Shouldn't Darwinism wipe out this mutant zombie species sooner or later? I have seen them walk into walls, not to mention step out into traffic, while txtng or whatever it is they do with that compulsive spastic neurotic thumb motion.

    - Marcus

  17. A most amusing, but frighteningly true post.....submitted from an iPad.

  18. Holy crap! It's like you're reading my mind!
    Ironically, I came across this post while attempting to share with you ANOTHER urban nightmare: the infestation of chain stores into our once unique city. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that, in order to share this information, I took a picture with my iPhone and then posted it on my Facebook page. Does that make me a zombie?
    I have to say, however, that even though I now have an iPhone (five years after they first came out), my life hasn't changed all that much. I'm NOT on it all the time, I almost NEVER text (I prefer to have an actual conversation), and I'm careful not to use it when I'm in the company of an actual human being (or, if I do, I at least have the courtesy to apologize first).

  19. Yes, Yes, Yes!!!!
    This is one of my greatest pet peeves!
    Recently, I was dining in a Vietnamese restaurant and in came a family of 5 - father, mother, 2 teenage children and one child of about 6. They looked their menus and as soon as they gave the waitress their orders, everyone except the 6 year old, pulled out their cell phones and stayed on them for the entire meal. They never spoke to one another and no one spoke to the 6 year old.
    When they were finished with their meal, they stuffed the phones back into their pockets and left.
    I thought, "what a waste", so many important moments lost, so many conversations left unsaid, no joking, no laughter, just zombies staring at their screens while the world passes by them.


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