There’s a double whammy on smartphone use in public: it makes you less aware of your surroundings, and it attracts thieves.
On the “less aware of your surroundings” front, there’s the story of a California teenager who stepped into a nest of rattlesnakes while talking on her cell phone. Thankfully, she survived and, according to the news articles, will likely make a complete recovery. The money quote: “Be careful where you step,” she said. “If you don’t need to, just wait until you are somewhere that you can call people.” Good advice.
While you’ve probably never stepped into a nest of rattlesnakes while talking on the phone, most of us can tell stories about times when using the phone meant we weren’t quite as alert as we maybe should have been. While it’s true that awareness is important, it’s also true that perfect awareness is impossible. We live in a distracting world, so of course sometimes we get distracted.
But did you ever stop to think that thieves might take advantage of your distraction when you’re on the phone? They sure do! Criminals find smartphones particularly attractive targets because they are high-value items that can easily be resold, and because people using them rarely notice the criminals’ opening moves. This means “smartphone mugging” has become more common over the past few years.
In some ways, this type of mugging often mimics the classic purse snatch. Remember that purse snatching can be a violent crime, as can any other type of grab for your belongings, so this is something to take very seriously. For more information about how cellphone mugging happens, read this story from the SF Chronicle. The story is almost a year old, but it’s a timely reminder.
To increase your safety while using the phone, I recommend using it only when you are in a secure place, not while moving down the sidewalk, or inside a crowd, or in a fringe area, or on public transportation. If you’re in a parked car, lock your doors before burying yourself in your phone call—don’t sit with your legs dangling out the open car door while you chat. On public transportation, avoid getting the phone out at all, and especially avoid standing near the doors with the phone in your hand. On public streets, keep the phone out of sight.
If you are on foot and need to check your map, stop moving and put your back against a nearby building so you won’t be surprised by someone coming up behind you. Look at the people around you before you check the screen, and keep your eyes on your surroundings while you wait for your map to load. Avoid looking at the screen for long stretches so you stay more aware of what’s happening around you.