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Situational Blindness by Mark Hatmaker

The only fights you truly win are the ones you don’t have.“-Lee Child
Keeping the above quote in mind, along with the fact that crime is a product of opportunity, we go a long way towards being “masters of self-defense” if we simply remove as many opportunities as possible from our behavior.

With that said, let me point to a bit of advice from former CIA operative Jason Hanson, who says that the number one tip he can offer to making anyone and everyone a bit more like Jason Bourne in the modern world, is simply this “always be aware of your surroundings.

Easier said than done, right? Well, he goes a bit further by offering what he considers the number one concrete tactic to becoming aware of your surroundings-don’t use a smartphone. That’s it.

He says spy craft prohibits the use of smartphones not simply because of the tracking potential but because it encourages absorption, a retreat from where you are to someplace else that is not here.

He points to the numerous instances of car crashes related to smartphone use, but says that observation does not go far enough. He has cataloged an impressive battery of incidences where victims were chosen simply because they were the unaware animals at the watering hole with their heads down blind to their surroundings.

Lest anyone think that the use of the word blind goes too far, he backs up this contention with copious examples of security camera footage of people simply blindsided in all sorts of public surroundings simply because their eyes were glued to the screen.

Two astonishing examples come to mind-the first a bar is robbed at gunpoint, the predator actually stands next to our smartphone user during the robbery. The smartphone user moves down a seat as if in courtesy giving the man next to him room. He never looks up from the screen. When the police arrive after the robbery, the smartphone user has nothing to offer in assistance, he had no idea the robbery even took place.
The second example sent to me some time back, a man boards a bus in San Francisco the camera shows EVERY other passenger with their faces glued to screens.
The newest rider pulls a gun and brandishes it, no one notices it. The predator looks confused, puts the gun away, seems to think for a moment and then pulls it again, this time he uses it – the precious window of reaction to avert a tragedy has been lost.

If (if) we think “Well, I’m not that way, I’m perfectly aware of my surroundings even while I use this marvel of technology” your self-judgment goes against all the science of the brain’s executive function. We simply do not multi-task well.

In a recent study of “time loss perception” smartphone users were monitored while they periodically checked their phones in a casual dining experience. They were being timed by observers on the scene unbeknownst to them.

When approached and asked how long they thought their interaction with the phone had lasted, they unanimously underestimated the phone interaction by 80%. That is, they (we) have no idea how long our attention is actually lost, how long we are blind.

Blind to our dinner companions is one thing, blind to predators with a gun is another.

Since even highly trained spy personnel are told to drop the smartphone, do you think we the lesser-trained citizens of the world will be any less resistant to its temptations?

I offer a drill, for those brave enough to survive electronically-teatless for a day, dock the phone and be awake in the day. Be aware.

Shoot for a week, particularly if you found the exercise uncomfortable.

I will say, it is an oddity of the power of these devices that often when I offer some clients drills such as complete 500 burpees in the course of a single day or some other such physically taxing challenge, more often than not people step-up. They do it.

When this “wean yourself from the electronic teat drill” is offered the failure rate is far, far higher.

In short, we can’t have it both ways, we can’t be prepared operators in the world who claim to give value to awareness and self-protection and at the same time be checking every ping and chime that sounds in that electronic leash.

Aware animals, operational professionals don’t text, and don’t surf the web outside of the home. It’s either no-phone or a flip-top phone that is, well, a phone.

So, ask yourself, are you aware? If you’re reading this on your phone and you are not at home Mr. Hanson and I both would say you most definitely are not.

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87 thoughts on “Situational Blindness by Mark Hatmaker”

  1. So true, about the phones. I see it every day. What’s going to happen when modern society as we know it comes to a screeching halt. Those people buried in a “dumbphone” are going to be like zombies…not knowing what to do. They will be among the first to die. I don’t own one…I do have a small cheap cell for emergencies.

  2. Thanks for reminding us that our security is our own responsibility. Situational awareness is THE number 1 priority that should be on everyone’s mind. I do have a smart phone but rarely use it in public and then only to make a call. I am still looking around and holding down my voice to avoid drawing attention.

  3. “The only fights you truly win are the ones you don’t have…” This should be a fundamental principle for Martial Artists. Back in the 1970s I already had a Brown Belt in Judo. So I took up Karate, which had a more sinister reputation back then. One day I was at a party when a thirty-something woman approached and intimated she’d have sex with me if I picked a fight with her husband and beat him up. This was unexpected, and I didn’t catch on until she started mocking me for missing this tremendous opportunity. So there’s another type of situation to watch out for.


  5. Sound advise all around. People today are so glued to their smart phones and using social media they don’t have a clue now to actually interact with real people anymore. I know some people that are so focused on how many friends they have following them that they spend more and more time doing those activities instead of cultivating real person relationships.
    Besides all the above they just are oblivious to their immediate surroundings. I find it very funny when I can walk up to any person glued to their phone or other device and they are actually startled when I say, “Good day.” Others just don’t even hear me at all and are so far gone and focused on their phone anyone could take advantage of them without any resistance whatsoever.
    I find it so sad to see even older people so glued to their smart phone or tablet or what have you. All those people are losing out on reality and what is happening right around them.
    I own a smart phone, tablet and a lap top. However, I don’t spend much time at all on any of them except for a short time at home. When I go to the shop I put my smart phone on the bench or on the charger and only check it for texts or missed calls periodically during the day. I do not instantly go grab it if it goes off either. If someone really needs to get a hold of me they call. Texts are to me just a side note that does not require immediate attention. Therefore, I will check and only answer texts every few hours or so. All the people I have contact with understand that about me and amazingly understand or just accept that and give me that space.
    If you set perimeters for yourself and others you can have a reality life and a social media time. I choose to limit the social media to a small segment of my daily life. I am older and remember when there were no personal devices and we all lived and enjoyed life just fine. We perhaps even had more fun as we actually got together and enjoyed a face to face communication.
    Part of me gets the smart phone for weather updates and the texting aspect but to see others just focus their face on their device really makes me feel sorry for them for missing what is right there for them to experience all around them.
    To have a smart device is fine and dandy but to live through that device is short changing their reality of living in the hear and now.
    For the security sake alone I’m always suggesting people put their smart device away when they are away from the relative safety of their home.
    I guess there are less people that think that way the more we enter into the smart device era.
    Anyway, Your article has a lot of smart thinking behind it and is sound advice to everyone so they can remain less of a target for those predators looking for an easy target.

  6. Get rid of the smart phone, and get an old technology phone which is a phone, and can receive SMSs. It sits in your pocket. You can use it for phone banking, as necessary and it’s just about impossible to hack.

  7. I don’t own or have ever used a smartphone, my simple flip phone is all I use and it basically is just for emergencies. I think people who are constantly texting or doing other things on their so-called smartphone, have their head up their ass and asking for any kind of trouble.

  8. Excellent point(s). I’m employed in training the Navy in the piracy/terrorist arenas. Situational awareness saves lives.

  9. Sounds right, I personally use a flip as a phone and the smartphone mostly for weather. I don’t give out the smartphone number.

  10. Number 10 but just check out how many Walk around under a hoodie booth hands stuffed in the pockets head phones on or wrap around sun glasses with no pref vision people are ther owne worst nite mare when it comes to situational awareness

  11. The fight you win is the one that you avoid! Remember the Cooper Color Codes, and always walk in ‘Condition Yellow!’

  12. Now THAT was a GREAT article about awareness. I have found myself glued to my cell phone screen, while waiting for, or on a city bus, or, while waiting for my mother to finish her shopping. So, I JUST decided to delete everything from my phone that has nothing to do with making calls. It’s a smart phone(Android) but I can see after reading this article how potentially deadly just being on a cell phone in public can be. I can play games, listen to music, or read email after I get home. Thanks for the great advice.

  13. Too true, blind is not too harsh a description for those forever captivated by the “smart”phone. Apart from the fact that it is also incredibly rude and ignorant to spend so much time in the cyber as opposed to the real world, although I suppose it may be a blessing to those who would not know how their last moments in the real world played out.

  14. I will agree. I am viewing via phone, but also at home. So often, I see others entranced by their phone. In a social setting… Again, how can you be aware of what’s happening all around, if you aren’t even fully engaged with your friends/company.? Head on a swivel, at all times. I live in a moderate city with minimal crime. Yet, you can’t always be certain how others may behave, or their agenda. I ‘choose’ a time and location, if I’m to use my phone, other than for originally designed intent.

  15. I am a crane / lorry-loader opertator, and there is no space for phone use while operating this sort of machinery.
    I have more than once removed and smashed the phone, from both operators and Banksman when they wouldn’t listen.
    You cannot concentrate on the job while using your phone!
    Nothing, NOTHING, on your phone is more important than what is happening around you!
    Chas Dart.
    Appointed Person.

  16. Hi Mark
    this article is so true even here in the UK. When walking through the town or the shopping centre, I often comment to my wife and point out the incredible numbers of people……..especially women……who have no idea whats going on around them and present such easy targets.

  17. Good idea i tried it for a week. Was hard at first but by the end of the week is was no big deal not to have it.

  18. Great read. Was at a birthday party a few weeks and we noticed that all the guest at one time were looking at their smartphones.
    We took a picture of them and they all laughed.

  19. Everything he says is dead on true. And I see it everywhere. I’m a truck driver and I notice things like that. I’m thinking about going back to my flip phone now. Very seriously. Wake up America.

  20. Sounds very familiar. Going out to eat with family & friends and everybody has their cell phones out and nobody talking to each other. And you see the younger generation glued to their cell phones and not paying attention to anything going on around them. The worst is everybody driving with their cell phones in their hands. Give them a rest people!

  21. Excellent advice, I learnt this skill when I was in the scouts. I drum this in to all my family especially my grandkids (smart phone generation). They know the drill, “wherever you are, look around, listen & tune in. They also look for the exits so if something happens they know where to run. The best thing I learnt in the scouts was “be prepared “. Always think: what if, have a plan to escape & learn first aid.

  22. This couldn’t be more spot on. I used to go run or walk in the evening because it was cooler and less traffic. My friends used to ask me ” How could I do that without listening to music with a head set?” I looked at them and said there’s two words “Situational Awareness!!” One of my buddies who was ex military looked at me with this big grin and said “You’re right” that’s much more important. As I left I heard him trying to explain it to the others. I’m definitely going to show him this.
    Thank you so much

  23. yes I see people wandering about lost in the technology, I think that is why the zombie apocalypse is prevalent in our culture, because we see people wandering about unaware of what is around them, not paying attention too the car they have just walked in front of because they are plugged in to the tech, but a lot of people are slaves to technology, it”s the politicly correct future, and it”s not very bright.

  24. This is so true!, If I need to use my phone in public I make sure I have my back to a wall so I can look up and check out people who are in the room and who is coming or going.
    I also use a Bluetooth ear piece when I drive so I can have both hands on the wheel and keep my eyes peeled for reckless driver’s.
    An other tip I do day or night, as soon as I get into my car I lock my doors before I put my key in the ignition, to be safe from the car jacker’s,, especially us Ladies young and old.
    Stay Smart, Stay Safe!

  25. Great advice. Was eat Hong people yesterday and you are right. Blind people everywhere. Thanks for the eye opener.

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