1710: Walking Into Things

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 19:08, 19 April 2023 by GreatWyrmGold (talk | contribs) (Explanation: It's not really ironic. Reading something on your phone while walking around isn't a social activity.)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search
Walking Into Things
A childhood spent walking while reading books has prepared me unexpectedly well for today's world.
Title text: A childhood spent walking while reading books has prepared me unexpectedly well for today's world.


Cueball comments on the rate of his walking into things while distracted by various stimuli, comparing it to a controlled study where the aim is to research whether he is most likely to bump into something while looking at a book, at his phone, or staring at the sky (something Randall does a lot with his interests in astronomy, optical phenomena, weather phenomena and kites).

Megan replies that if this is the case, the rate of the "control group" colliding with things is also weirdly high. In Cueball's metaphor, the "control group" would be his walking around without being distracted, so you would expect him not to collide with anything when able to give his full attention to where he's going. Thus, Megan is implying that Cueball is simply clumsy or easily distracted by other events or his own thoughts, and that his walking into things has little to do with whether he's looking at his phone, in a book or at the sky. Cueball responds defensively, saying that "walking [without bumping into anything] is hard, okay?"

Walking actually is a difficult task, as can be observed when trying to teach a robot how to walk, or the time it takes for children to learn it and the way that a baby's first steps are celebrated as an achievement and a milestone in their development. Of course, walking is much easier (for most people) once they've mastered the basics.

In the title text, Randall remarks that his childhood spent walking around with his nose in a book has prepared him "unexpectedly well" for today's world. Years ago, walking around while staring at something in your hands — such as a book — was considered odd, antisocial and dangerous, and was mostly the province of bookworms and nerds. Yet now, it's commonplace for people to walk around staring at their phones. This makes those "antisocial" people who grew up used to walking around while reading the best-adapted to navigating while using a smartphone.


[Meagan and Cueball, holding a smartphone in his hand, walk through a landscape with patches of grass. They are just passing behind a stump of a tree, a small bush is in front of them and there are two rocks on the ground which extends to rolling hills in the distance under a clear sky with three small white clouds to the right and two seagulls drawn as lying down 3 to the left with four more birds further left and much further away.]
Cueball: My life is basically a big controlled trial of whether I'm more likely to walk into something while looking at a book, my phone, or the sky.
[Zoom in to Megan and Cueball while they're still walking, no background is shown. Beat panel while she ponders his statement.]
[Megan and Cueball still walking.]
Megan: The weird thing is that the rate for the control group is so high.
Cueball: Walking is hard, okay?


The second word in the first panel looks like "UFE", but it's actually "LIFE" with bad 1015: Kerning.

At the time the comic was released, Pokémon Go has been gaining popularity, with many people raising concerns about the dangers of walking around while staring at a phone screen. (See 1705: Pokémon Go released two weeks before this).

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


'TFI a UFE? 04:58, 22 July 2016 (UTC)

I was wondering about this as well and googled it before i noticed that it's just the letters L and I that are not properly spaced. So UFE translates to "LIFE"... --- 11:33, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Leam to kem (learn to kern) 15:45, 22 July 2016 (UTC)

Frame 1: Cueball mentions three groups. I think he implies the study only has 3 groups. Is the control group "looking at the sky"? 05:37, 22 July 2016 (UTC)

There is no control group in the first panel. It's a controlled (or monitored) trial, with three different outcomes. The control group mentioned by Megan is all mankind except Cueball.--Dgbrt (talk) 07:33, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
I read that as sometimes Cueball doesn't do any of the three things while walking, and yet still walks into things. 15:47, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
The "control group" is a baseline for comparison, so it's a sample of trials which have "average" values of the experiment's variables. Since the trials are describing whether Cueball is more likely to walk into something when he's looking at one of three things, the control group would be a random sample of all of Cueball's walking. Megan's comment about the control group is a way of saying that if you consider all of Cueball's walking, whether he's looking at one of those three things or not, his "rate" of walking into things is surprisingly high.--CapnCurry (talk) 22:34, 26 July 2016 (UTC)

Perhaps Randall meant "discovering new things" by "walking into things". I walk into more things when I don't have a phone with me.-- 19:48, 22 July 2016 (UTC)

Does the word "rate" have a specific meaning in the context of controlled trials? If so, the explanation needs a summary of that meaning and a description of what the "rate of the control group" means in that context. Dansiman (talk) 21:17, 25 July 2016 (UTC)

No, "the rate for the control group" just refers to the rate at which Cueball walks into things in general, versus the rate at which he walks into things while A) Staring at the sky, B) Reading a book, or C) Looking at his phone. "Rate" has no special or unusual meaning in this phrase.

Unrelated: Survey question: How much time do you spend looking at your phone? circa 2076: "What is a phone?" cc2026: "My phone says 72%." cc2016: "Not much; Sometimes I just use my tablet." cc2006: "I guess I do text a lot." cc1976: "Looking at it? Do you have a video phone or something?" cc1876: "What is a phone?" 10:37, 27 July 2016 (UTC)

The clouds are drawn to look like icons of clouds, not actual clouds. This has some kind of cosmic significance. i suspect it means that the characters exist inside a virtual landscape. 05:20, 29 July 2016 (UTC)leon