Briefing Room: Can You Hear Me Now?

While I’m a real ‘90s kind of guy (1890s, that is) I finally succumbed to the modern day and age and carry a cellular phone. This in spite of the fact that I hate cell phones.

I hate hearing them ring while I’m trying to enjoy dinner at a restaurant. I hate being distracted when the screens light up when I’m at a movie theater and the constant “beep, beep, beep” noise when someone is sending a text message instead of watching the film. I hate being interrupted in mid-sentence with a, “Hold on while I answer this.” I do find it comical, however, as someone moves around a room asking, “Can you hear me now?” as if by moving a few feet they will magically find the “sweet spot” for a cell tower located 50 miles away.

But what I find disturbing about cell phones—and other hand-held electronics such as MP3 players and BlackBerrys—is the total lack of situational awareness that most people display while using them. I have observed folks using them in dark parking lots, totally immersed in conversation while people they don’t know walk up behind them. The track where I work out at night is unlit, but it is not uncommon to see joggers totally oblivious to everything except the tunes on their MP3 player.

A year ago my son Flint was injured in an accident just north of Phoenix. Flint had slowed to the posted 45 mph in a freeway construction zone when he was rear-ended by a woman driving an SUV traveling at 80 mph. She told the investigating officer she did not see the construction zone signs or slowing traffic because she was (guess what?) “texting a friend.”

There has been more than one incident when someone has been stopped at a traffic light and—while talking on a cell or sending a text message—has been the victim of a carjacking.

Crowded urban areas are the prime hunting ground of pickpockets, and anyone busy talking on, texting with or listening to a portable electronic device is a prime target. This type of negative situational awareness results in lots of dumb mistakes like bumping into people and falling off the sidewalk, but at worst is like having a sign on the back saying, “Attention thieves: I won’t have a clue if you take everything I’ve got.”

The world is not a friendly place, and it is getting less so with each passing day. Many people have lost the animal instinct—the “sixth sense”—that warns them of impending danger. Situational awareness is up to you and you alone. In my book, being attacked because you are completely unaware of your surroundings does not make you a victim—it makes you a volunteer.

Use common sense. Turn that i-Pod off or way down when you’re in public. If you must talk on a cell, keep looking around to see if a potential bad guy is approaching you. And if you must watch TV, do it where it’s meant to be watched: at home, not while walking down a busy street filled with thieves looking for an easy mark.

If you don’t pay attention to your environment, you may one day wake up on a dirty sidewalk with a paramedic wiping blood from your eyes and asking, “Can you hear me now?”

Until next time, stay low and watch your back.

Denny Hansen

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