Cell Phone Absorption: A Deadly Preoccupation

On Monday, Sept. 25, a 20-year-old college student was gunned down as he departed a San Francisco commuter train. However, what is different about this senseless act of violence is that the crime could have possibly been stopped. Surveillance video shows a suspect, who was arrested the next day and pled not guilty, standing at the back of the train that had several other riders on it, with a smile on his face and a gun in his hand. If you were in this situation, and someone pulled out a gun on a train, how would you react or would you even notice? The people on this train had no reaction and never noticed the individual clearly brandishing and waving around a firearm because they were completely consumed by their smartphones. As Justin Valdez, a sophomore at San Francisco State University walked off the train, the suspect shot him, apparently at random, in the back of the head and fled. None of the bystanders noticed the gun before the man holding it pulled the trigger and “some are no more than two to three feet from him,” said San Francisco district attorney George Gascon.

He went on to say, “We’re seeing people that are so disconnected to their surroundings. This is not unique. People are being robbed, people are being hurt, people are being run over by cars because they’re so disconnected because of these phones.” The security video from the incident is horrifying. It shows a man smiling and lifting a handgun in plain view multiple times and at one point he waves the weapon directly at the other passengers as if he was choosing who he was going to kill. Nonetheless, nobody seemed to notice until after the deadly shot was fired.

Of course, we cannot predict whether Valdez’s life could have been saved if even one of the riders looked up from their phone at any point, but on the other hand, it is impossible to stop someone who is holding a weapon in plain sight if you never see it. Wouldn’t you want to know if someone near you was holding a weapon? It’s likely all your eyes would see is the text message you’re sending or Facebook status you’re posting like the bystanders in this incident.

After a Shepherd University student was robbed but not seriously injured on campus in late August, a RAVE alert was subsequently issued stating, “When pedestrians use their personal electronic devices while walking, they are distracted from what is happening around them and are at a greater risk.” Even though it was never officially reported that the victim was using his phone when he was pushed to the ground and robbed, the RAVE alert and incidents like the one in San Francisco should raise the question: Are we so distracted by technology to the point that people may be hurt or even killed?

We all have become aware of the dangers that come with texting and driving. However, I would argue that the same premise applies when we are not driving a vehicle. The constant fascination with what is on our phone or computer screen leaves us more and more disconnected from what is going on around us. You may be so distracted that you do not notice a crime, someone who is in need of help, or you may walk out into the road without a second thought.

Videos have gone viral on the news and the Internet that show a woman walking straight into a mall fountain while texting and a man who was so engrossed with his phone that he walked directly into the path of a black bear on the loose in a neighborhood. These videos may seem humorous and harmless, but they are just more examples of how prominent phones and technology have become in our lives. Even though the incident in San Francisco is an extreme example, everyone should take it seriously. Similar unfortunate events may take place more and more as technology becomes so overwhelming in our lives. A cultural change is needed and everyone should begin to realize that we all can be affected in many ways by simply not being aware of our surroundings due to something such as a phone.

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