When I’m taking Augie the wonder dog for his 6:30 am walk I am always amazed at the number of people who are out and about—and on their phones. If I didn’t have an adorable little mixed Australian Cattle Dog-Dachshund, I would be fast asleep at that hour.
This morning we narrowly avoided a woman who was walking down a residential street with her eyes glued to her phone, obviously on her way to work at a nearby hospital. As we skirted her—and I’m pretty sure she never saw either me or Augie, who is friendly, but prone to jumping—I shook my head at the “modern world,” and looked back.
The woman crossed the street—still with her eyes glued to her phone—and passed another woman, also garbed for hospital work—and also on her phone. This time the first woman looked up and said good morning to the other, who replied in kind. It didn’t seem as if they knew each other, but were merely acknowledging their respective presences.
I live in a safe, urban neighborhood and this time of year, it was fully daylight at that early hour.
But “safe” is a relative term. We are not immune to car break-ins, home burglaries and the like. Go not too many blocks further, closer to the action (and late hours) that bars and restaurants bring, and more serious crimes are not uncommon.
It’s my general policy when walking my neighborhood—whether “armed” with Augie or not—to say hello to everyone I pass. Most times it is an actual neighbor, sometimes armed with their own dog. (I think it is possible we have more dogs than people on my street!) In that case, we may stop and chat briefly, about weather, poor parallel parking skills of others, gardens or whatnot. What the dogs talk about, I could not say.
If I say hello to a stranger, I usually continue walking. But I almost always make eye contact and some verbalization that says, in effect, “Hey, I acknowledge that we are on the street at the same time and we are both going about our business.”
More and more, however, I note how many people, younger than I and older, too, are walking with their heads bent into the small screen of their cellphone, intent on a text, or possibly surfing the web. Other folks, young and old, are carrying on conversations, mostly loudly enough for a passerby like myself, to hear what they are talking about, whether I want to or not.
I could rant for several paragraphs about the aforementioned “modern world,” or I could bemoan a world in which a person can’t walk her child to the bus stop or his dog to the corner without using his or her phone simultaneously, but mostly what disturbs me about it is the complete and utter failure of these folks to have any awareness of their surroundings.
Those of us with even the most basic self-defense training learn about the threat continuum. In many cases, it is expressed in a color scheme that starts with Condition White—when you are absolutely safe, to Condition Red—when you are in grave and immediate danger. We are taught to live our lives in Condition Yellow—safe, but alert to our surroundings and changing conditions, which can escalate quickly.
Watching people on their phones—and I have seen people cross busy intersections, texting while they maneuver their skateboard—I wonder if trainers around the country shouldn’t nudge Condition White over a space and slide in Condition Bubble.
In Condition Bubble, the belief that you are absolutely safe takes precedence over any actual conditions you might find yourself in—such as being on a quiet, residential street early in the morning. In Condition Bubble, it really wouldn’t matter if the middle aged woman and 20 pound dog you kind of see in your peripheral vision is there or not, or whether it’s actually a 20-year-old body builder with an 80-pound pit bull, off leash. You are so far into cyber world that you don’t have any clue about the real one.
Sadly, Condition Bubble seems to exist for drivers as well—many of whom are breaking the law, by being on the phone and endangering everyone around them. It doesn’t seem to matter to them, though, because they are in their own cocoon. A dangerous place to be.