You’re walking down the street, or maybe having a meal alone. You don’t want to seem like a loner and there’s not really much else to look at, so you pull out your smartphone, jam headphones into your ears and settle in. You refresh your email, Facebook or Instagram, and then maybe scroll through the news or check out some new music. Or, maybe you’re one of those Candy Crush junkies who stays engrossed with your screen for hours, barely pausing to take in the surrounding scene. Either way, your smartphone becomes more important than the people and places around you.
We’re all guilty of it.
But some might feel a little more guilty than others, particularly those involved in a tragedy on a San Francisco Muni train last month. On Sept. 23, a man murdered a 20-year-old San Francisco State student on a crowded Muni train. The gunman wielded his .45-caliber pistol in plain view for several seconds before pulling the trigger. According to footage captured by a Muni security camera, the gunman raised and pointed the weapon and then dropped it back down to his side several times before firing at an apparently random target. The footage also revealed that the surrounding passengers were startlingly indifferent to the surrounding danger, and for only one reason: their smartphones.
The surrounding passengers appeared to be too absorbed with their smartphones to notice the impending gunfire. Many had headphones plugged into their ears, and all had their eyes glued to their individual screens. There was little human interaction to be seen as they remained immersed in their individual, digital worlds.
Not a single passenger noticed the gunman before finally hearing the gunshot. Not a single passenger reacted in time to save Justin Valdez from a random act of violence.
Which leaves us to wonder — if smartphones didn’t exist, would Valdez still be alive today? Would a passenger have noticed that a man was pointing a gun and reacted in time to stop the senseless act? Though we won’t ever know for sure, I have to believe that if the passengers were more aware of their surroundings, it would have made all of the difference.
We have become too dependent on our smartphones and other technological devices for entertainment and escape when left alone. It has become our first instinct to whip out our smartphones so that we don’t have to interact with others and don’t have to look like we’re awkwardly alone. We no longer have to be present in the physical situations our bodies reside in, escaping by pressing our noses up to our smartphone screens. We have become completely oblivious to the world around us.
Somehow, our phones and the content they present have become preferable to our immediate realities. Even if a group of people occupies the same physical space, their minds are elsewhere and their ability to recognize danger is remarkably diminished. Smartphone users must realize the dangerous capacity of this tendency and make an effort to increase their awareness. We have a responsibility to each other to ensure that horrible and pointless acts of violence such as this shooting are prevented in the future.
So the next time you walk through campus, leave your phone in your backpack. Open your eyes, take a second and take a look around you. Be really present where you actually are, and try to convert the time you spend looking at a screen to time observing the world around you.
You never know what you’re going to miss while your eyes and minds are elsewhere.
Cecilia Callas is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column “Tech Talk” runs Wednesdays.
Follow Cecilia on Twitter @ceciliacallas