Natural selection against clueless cellphone users

November 4, 2018 • 1:45 pm

We’ve all seen people bump into telephone poles and nearly get hit by cars when walking around looking at their cellphones. (Hell, I’ve done it myself, at least with the telephone poles; I never look at a phone while crossing the street.) When I almost bumped into one of these metal poles in Paris, I realized that if they were a little shorter, and had a more injurious top than a simple ball, they could be used to select against heedless cellphone users.

The scenario: someone is walking along and looking at their cellphone, and bumps into a shorter version of one of these poles, say with a metal spike on top. Voilà! Their gamete-producing organs are injured, hurting their fertility. If there’s any genetic variation for using cellphones while oblivious to the external environment, that variation will be reduced by colliding with these “anti-gamete” poles. Within a generation, more people will be using their cellphones responsibly.

Of course this will work only for males, but that’s still selection on half the population, and presumably the genes for obliviousness are expressed in both sexes. Eventually only the nongenetic (socially conditioned) variation will remain.

My hand shows the height that the spikes needs to be; but of course it can be a foot or more in length, dealing with most of the height variation in human males.

59 thoughts on “Natural selection against clueless cellphone users

  1. I always assumed that’s why the English called them “bollards”, as in “I wasn’t watching where I was walking, and hit my ball hard on that post.”

    1. If you hit the right bollard it makes the left eye water, if you clout the left one the right eye waters. I think its due to the nerves from the brain crossing sides below the level of the cervical vertebrae.

      If Jerry’s spiked bollard were placed at average male gonad height, so as to be effective against the largest sector of the population, the tallest individuals would pass unscathed. So the secondary effect of this eugenic measure would be to actively select for individuals with height combined with absentmindedness (sounds just like myself, since I am 6’7″ and live with my head in the clouds in many senses).
      Shorter individuals would likely remain with pudenda intact and fertile as before, though possibly succumbing to an unplanned appendectomy.

        1. You have to be careful where you are walking in Amsterdam too, othewise you could a nasty bang in the netherlands!

    2. Well the typical English bollard is shorter and thicker than that French pole.

      (That could be misread in just so many ways…)

      They were originally mooring posts on wharves for tying parked boats to.


      1. I notice the three have yellow warning bands to avoid tripping, no doubt. The bands on in the middle is spaced more widely. I wonder, now, if that doesn’t help detection in ones peripheral vision while texting.
        Note, too, that the taller bollards look like they’re wearing Bowler hats. Bollard…Bowler…hmmmmm…

          1. I thought the same thing. Then the engineer in me started thinking of ways it could work in the US. Maybe disguise the bollards as beer kegs. Or sex toys.

      2. A while back Ricky Gervais suggested that the ‘Do Not Drink’ warning labels be removed from bottles of bleach, just for a few years, so as to weed out the most dangerously thick members of society.

  2. I usually don’t look at my phone when walking outside but twice I checked my calendar to confirm where a meeting was in the building and twice I fell down the stairs because I did so while going down the stairs and missed a step.

    I e caught myself since & waited until I was standing still, away from the stairs.

    I’ve had people almost smack into me walking & reading their phones.

  3. Jerry, have you been to see Shakespeare and Co on the Left Bank (37 rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th arrondissement)?
    Its a good meeting point for wandering anglophones. The original bookshop actually published Joyces’s Ulysses and was a meeting place for various literary elements passing through or resident in Paris.

    1. I was going to recommend the Gibert Jeune bookshop in Place St Michel but I don’t think they carry books in English.

      1. I think they have some. The FNAC is good at Les Halles: massive bookshop. Usually buskers in that area too. They sell various types of crepe on the street there.

      2. I am rather sure that Jerry Coyne would be able to find books in English in some bookstore in Chicago without the need to go to Paris for that.
        By the way, in Paris there are plenty of French bookstores that may be interesting for a person who does not usually live in a French speaking country.

      3. I rather like the open-air lock-up second-hand bookstalls (along with the lock-up souvenir stalls) along the banks of the Seine.

        It gives a unique flavour to browsing, in fine weather at least.


    2. Why the hell would anglophones go to Paris to look for anglophones? Aren’t there more anglophones in the English speaking countries? I understand that if you live abroad, sometimes you may want to meet people speaking your language. But when you are traveling only a few days or weeks?

  4. What a good idea. It reminds me of the proposed antidote to careless driving, which is to mount an eight-ince stiletto in the centre of the steering-wheel, pointing at the driver’s most vital organ.

      1. I saw a bicycle in a museum some years ago which had lengthy, levered spike which could be padlocked in place in the saddle as a deterrent against theft. At least I’m assuming that the intention was to deter rather than mutilate or maim.

    1. ‘pointing at the driver’s most vital organ.’

      What – you drive standing on the seat?



  5. Café “La Seine” boulevard de la Bastille and rue Laculée ? Gee, we’re really not far at all from each other !

    1. I think that seatbelts should be obligatory for motorcycles: that way the rider remains securely attached should his vehicle jack-knife, turn somersaults or bounce off any other vehicles. I think one should aim to live out the full experience.

  6. Those posts appear to be intended to keep cars from wandering onto the sidewalk and sterilizing or otherwise hurting pedestrians. Texting while driving can increase the frequency of those mishaps. Texting drivers, then, might be at an advantage since they eliminate both texting and non-texting walkers roughly equally. I’d say the population is safely stable.

  7. … presumably the genes for obliviousness are expressed in both sexes.

    Though the genes for refusing to ask for directions seem to be expressed more prominently in one sex. 🙂

  8. A fellow elementary school pupil took one of these things (a shorter one I think) right in the solar plexus once.

    He went from white to purple.

    1. I was coming out of work once and one of the kids in the museum shoved his classmate in my direction. His head hit me in the stomach/solar plexus. I folded in half and couldn’t breathe for about 30 seconds.
      Such a reaction must have some evolutionary advantage but I haven’t quite worked out what it might be. Maybe it just makes you more careful to protect yourself the next time.

        1. I suppose that the front of the abdomen is unprotected by a skeleton, so by bunching up after a blow to the plexus or when being tickled thereabouts, we have reflex mechanisms that ensure protection. A bit like blinking for the eye or when you stub your toe.

  9. There might also be selective pressure for women who prefer taller men, since the shorter ones have all gone infertile. Then they tend to produce both taller sons and daughters who prefer taller men, and the whole arms race fires up…

    1. I haven’t been hit in the face by a short Pole since getting in a fistfight with little Stosh Grabowski on the playground in sixth grade. 🙂

  10. If you remember “Terry Tate, Office Linebacker”, yeah, we need him for cell phone users. That would solve the problem very quickly, and about as painfully.

  11. The obvious evolutionary step forward would be for these bollards or potolets or whatever to develop the possibility of some kind of ambulation and wander around the city actively looking for victms. Rather like triffids.
    You could be fumbling with your apartment key on the Rue San Michel after a glass or three of vin rouge in Saint Germain when one of these potelets leaps out of a dark corner and gives you the coup de grace to the crown jewels.
    Doesn’t bear thinking about does it? It would make you want take your holidays somewhere else!

    1. Never quite understood how one can really make a distinction between artificial and natural selection. The evolution of a wolf to a domesticated dog is still natural selection – it’s an animal being shaped by environmental pressures. The fact that the environmental pressures are intentionally brought about by conscious human beings doesn’t seem to make much difference in my mind.

      I suppose you could say that the distinguishing factor is that foresight, ie. the long-term intentions of human beings, comes into play for the first time in evolutionary history, but that’s a pretty arbitrary distinction in objective terms. It’s still natural selection.

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