Joggers: beware of SODs
I have discovered a new disorder and believe it to be rather widespread. It has potentially serious health implications for joggers in all cities.
Spatial Orthogrammic Disorder —from the Greek ὀρθός (orthos), meaning “straight”, and γραμμή (grammi), meaning “line”—is the inability of a person to imagine a straight line in space. The syndrome is manifest in pedestrians incapable of predicting the path of oncoming persons, especially joggers.
For simplicity, I will call people who have this syndrome SODs.
It is quite hazardous for joggers to encounter SODs. For even when SODs see joggers coming, they lack the mental apparatus to get out of the way, and worse, like the commonly encountered canine counterparts, may actually step directly into a jogger’s path.
So far I have identified and classified three types of SOD: the Group SOD, the Smartphone SOD and the Brownian Motion SOD. Their behavioural traits are described below.
Following is a real-life example of a Group SOD encounter that nearly ended in tragedy.
“While running on a footpath just wide enough for three people, I saw ahead of me three people walking abreast and consuming the entire footpath. I did not have many options. On my left was a fence, on my right a busy road. As is convention [in Australia], I moved to the left.”
Normal people would have perceived the jogger coming towards them and realised that the intersection of the two paths (theirs and the jogger’s) would culminate in a collision unless at least one person moved slightly. Because the jogger had moved as far as he physically could towards the fence, logic dictates that either one or more in the group of pedestrians should shuffle sideways slightly to make room and avoid collision.
Most of the time, space sharing happens naturally and effortlessly between humans. Our intentions are accurately communicated with each other through subtle body language signals (that account for 93% of communication) and collisions are avoided. This is not, however, the case when we encounter SODs.
“They were looking straight at me, quietly talking amongst themselves. In order to exaggerate my intention to pass between them and the fence I leaned considerably to the left and rotated my body at an angle that minimised my width. Still no reaction, they just kept walking towards me, talking merrily. I was four steps from them and going too fast to stop. Collision was imminent. I glanced over my shoulder, noticed a gap in the traffic, somehow managed to launch my body into a gyration, made a 90 degree course correction onto the road, and another one immediately back onto the footpath. During my leap I managed to snatch a glance at their faces. They were utterly oblivious to me and the situation they had just put me in”
The SODs were completely unaware that the jogger needed to perform a dangerous acrobatic manoeuvre in order to avoid crashing into their blockade. They lacked the basic efficacy to avoiding bumping into other people.
This is just one example of Group SOD behaviour; but it is very common.
The following phenomena is reported all the time, by joggers and walkers alike. It occurs when people are walking down the footpath while interacting intensely with their smartphones.
Ironically, when such a person focuses all of their attention on their smartphone, few problems arise. The critical and all-consuming task at hand, such as revelling in a new ‘like’ on Instragram, imbibes people with a kind of ‘superpower’ that enables them to navigate a busy footpath without ever looking up. Or at least they project such a ‘superpower’: pedestrians part for them like water cleaving off the bow of a steaming ship. Collisions are mostly avoided; unless, of course, two such individuals approach each other from opposite directions, but I digress …
It is not the super-smartphoner, but the head-popping-smartphoner that are SODs. These lesser smartphoners pop their heads up, see people coming, but then just pop their head down again and leave it to oncommers to second-guess their next move. They provide no body signals as to their intentions whatsoever.
“Are they going to walk straight into me, step left, or step right? How is one supposed to know? So I just go to the left. This way I only knock one in three smart phones to the ground.”
Brownian Motion SODs
Brownian Motion is a term derived from physics and is concerned with randomly moving particles. This animated GIF describes nicely what Brownian Motion looks like.
Brownian Motion SODs often gather near tourist destinations. They are quite interesting and humorous to observe but can pose a real danger to joggers.
In normal situations people travel from point A to point B in more or less a straight line, making their course predictable and avoidable. However, for some reason, near tourist destinations Brownian Motion becomes the norm. To the casual observer, many people gathered around tourist locations do not appear to have a point B in mind, but instead wander aimlessly in all directions.
The following variants of random movements pose the most danger to joggers who find themselves in the vicinity of tourist destinations:
The sudden 90 degree turn
This is when a SOD makes a sudden and unpredictable 90 degree turn directly into a jogger’s path. There appears no rhyme nor reason for the turn. They just execute the turn without warning. They may be walking towards or away from a jogger. If a jogger is attentive they may notice an almost imperceptible head rotation a few nanoseconds before the actual turn and be able avoid a contact situation.
Logic would suggest that nobody would deliberately move into the path of a speeding jogger. But logic does not apply to SODs. They do not account for joggers anywhere in their cognitive framework. The jogger may as well be invisible. To be more precise, it is the jogger’s vector of motion that is invisible. That part of a SODs’ brain that should compute motion is dysfunctional. This is why SODs do not care where they step.
Side note: for some reason 90-degree-turning-SODs are often found eating ice cream cones, which can prove rather calamitous for the ice cream cone as well as its owner.
The bluff turn
This is a particularly pernicious movement that will catch all but the most observant jogger. In this situation the SOD will turn their head in one direction but step out in the opposite direction. Observation suggests that this movement is more prevalent in alpha-male types who walk with a pronounced sway, extend their arms out wide, and turn their heads from side to side in sync with their gait. It is possible that the bluff turn is a primitive form of territoriality over the piece of footpath the jogger requires.
The astute jogger should either steer clear of such SODs or brace their shoulders for impact, depending upon their position on counter-territoriality.
The mass stand-up from a seat
One would think that jogging in front of seats that face a view, perhaps of a beach or a harbour, would provide a safe passage. There are usually very few pedestrians inhabiting such spaces. However SODs can be found sitting down as well as walking. Although they can clearly see a jogger coming, often from some distance away, they have a knack of suddenly standing up, on mass, just as the jogger arrives. If the seat is up against a wall or embankment, there is nothing a jogger can do but stop and thread through the group saying “excuse me”.
Often the SODs are a bit surprised and offended by the jogger’s sudden appearance in their midst. Their syndrome simply does not allow them to compute that the only possible continuation of the jogger’s journey is through the spot that they are completely occupying.
Fortunately these are usually slow moving SODs and will only cause the jogger inconvenience, not injury.
This syndrome invites much further study. The three classifications mentioned are probably only the tip of the iceberg. There is also a strong possibility of genetic overlap with canines, which are known to exhibit similar—and in some cases, identical—behaviours to SODs. An obvious question then arises: what other canine attributes are to be found in SODs? Are they promiscuous? Do they sniff bottoms?
In the meantime, until we understand more about SODs, it is my hope that joggers will become alert to the dangers presented by the syndrome. It is also important for joggers to remember that SODs are probably unaware of their condition. There is no need to get angry or irritated with them, they simply can not help being how they are.
Instead, the jogger is advised to employ all their positive endorphins to keep a lid on any anger. By exercising patience and acute awareness, a jogger will soon develop a nose for SODs and learn how to avoid the more obvious dangers.
Let’s hope that one day, an expression like “that crazy sod stepped right in front of me” might be said with sympathy, and not derision.
Update: Joggers can now avoid people with SOD Syndrome with a RunBell
All ‘research’ was conducted in Sydney, Australia. The jogger interviewed was myself. It was a side line of my New York Marathon Barefoot project.
Cover Photo by: Ed Yourdon