DA Claims Mobile Phone Obsession Resulted In No One Noticing Guy With Gun On SF Train
from the or,-you-know,-people-keeping-to-themselves dept
The San Francisco Chronicle has the sort of silly story that is all too common from local news organizations these days: making broad claims based on a single anecdote, with no actual evidence to support the thesis. In this case, it’s claiming that people “absorbed” by their devices were to blame for no one noticing a guy brandishing a gun on the SF Muni train a few weeks ago:
A man standing on a crowded Muni train pulls out a .45-caliber pistol.
He raises the gun, pointing it across the aisle, before tucking it back against his side. He draws it out several more times, once using the hand holding the gun to wipe his nose. Dozens of passengers stand and sit just feet away – but none reacts.
Their eyes, focused on smartphones and tablets, don’t lift until the gunman fires a bullet into the back of a San Francisco State student getting off the train.
From there, the article just goes on basically a long rant about the evils of mobile devices and how no one looks at each other any more. To make this claim plausible, it quotes the District Attorney, who claims that this “speaks to a larger dilemma of the digital age.” And then there’s a professor who makes the same argument:
“When you used to go into a public place, you assumed everyone was in that place with you,” said Jack Nasar, an Ohio State University professor in city and regional planning who specializes in environmental psychology. “What happens to public places when everybody is talking on a cell phone? Everyone is somewhere else.
“Someone can take a gun, hold it up, and nobody will notice it.”
This seems pretty damn questionable. While I’m sure it’s true that lots of people get absorbed by looking at their mobile devices, the fact that no one looked at the guy can’t be blamed on mobile devices. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in NY, but I learned from a very young age that you don’t look at people on public transit. You just don’t. It’s rude and, if anything, it’s more likely to provoke a dangerous situation. Over the years, I’ve ridden plenty of public transit systems around the world, and this is pretty typical — and it was typical long before mobile devices came on the scene. In fact, it seems like mobile devices just helped give people something to do rather than stare off into random space.
So, yes, it seems shocking that no one noticed the guy with the gun until he shot and killed someone, but it’s a pretty big leap to automatically blame everyone being on their mobile phones. It seems unlikely that everyone on the train was staring at a mobile device. It seems likely that some were just staring out the window as well. Will the DA and professor Nasar blame windows for destroying public places now too?