Oct 09 2013

iPad-using train passengers neglect to notice crazed gunman, get called out by SF Chronicle

It’s great to be alive in the Teensies! First of all, 9 out of 10 people are allergic to bread all of a sudden, so I get the whole basket to myself at restaurants. Second? Yeah, I’m trying to think of a second great thing, but I can’t, so I’ll just skip straight to the third great thing, which is my discovery that keeping a mini iPad in the bathroom has solved once and for all the problem of stale reading material in what has historically been an 18-Month-Old New Yorker Zone.

The mini iPad in the john is quite the breath of fresh air. Pre-digital-age, I might have been reading for the 217th time the same old 80,000-word article about daft British egg collectors. But this morning, instead of dragging a listless eye over sentences like “These are Lord Emsworth’s cuckoos, behold their speckled majesty” and idly pondering the pathogen population of the superannuated periodical in my hand, I enjoyed curling the spinster lip at a SF Chronicle story about some dude who flashed a gun on a San Francisco train but went unnoticed by commuters on iPhones.

And when I say “enjoyed” I of course mean “despaired of.” Because not only did the dude flash a gun, he wound up shooting a guy in the head. This was terrible. What’s also terrible is that the Chronicle piece uses this murder as a springboard for a trend piece on how device-users are a sign of the apocalypse. Instead of eschewing yet another entirely preventable instance of gun violence, the article focuses on the un-germane supposition that “the other passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn’t notice the gunman until he randomly shot and killed a university student.” Apparently, security footage — which has not even been publicly released at this point, although this has not stopped news outlets from interpreting it anyway — suggests that the tech-obsessed commuters suffered from “collective inattention.” As in, the murder itself — eh, whaddya gonna do, but a train full of passengers who declined to “notice” the gunman before he shot a dude? Crazy! I mean, the world is such a safe, non-threatening place that the first thing every aunt does when she gets on a train is fix her gaze on all the dudes who of course are never creepy at all!

Look, I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m on the subway and out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of some lunatic waving a pistol around, the last thing I’m gonna do is flippin notice him. I don’t make eye contact. I don’t sidle over and strike up a conversation about “Breaking Bad.” I don’t even heroically karate-chop him to the floor or die trying. Nope, what I usually do is, I keep my head down and blend into the woodwork while surreptitiously texting everyone in my contacts to call the cavalry. Then I hope like crud that he doesn’t blow a gasket before I scram at the next stop. To a security camera this behavior might read as “engrossed by Facebook,” when in fact I would actually be engrossed by not getting mass murdered.

Whether the passengers in this case were of a similar mind is of course conjecture. For all I know, since guns are so ubiquitous these days, everybody saw the pistol but just didn’t give a shit — just another dude on a train with a gun, no big whoop. Either way, the Chronicle doesn’t waste an opportunity to impugn them for being “oblivious.” Before iPads, apparently nobody ever read stuff on trains.

Now, you might think that, as a citizen of the free world, you have the right to be oblivious. You might feel entitled to the simple expectation that few if any homicidal maniacs are gonna gun you down while you check your Twitter feed on the train. But you would be wrong, because in a country where everybody and their dog is packin’ heat, and firearm homicides occur at the rate of 30 per day, you gotta look alive, girl! It’s 2013, the NRA is handing out mandatory free guns on every street corner, and it’s every aunt for herself. If you get croaked while checking your email in public, it’s your own flippin fault for letting your guard down in a war zone.

So remember: don’t leave home without your flak jacket and flamethrower, and leave those oblivion-causing iPads in the bathroom.


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  1. wondering

    I would have been just as zoned out, but my face would have been in an actual pages-having book, so obviously that ‘s different.

    After all, decrying inattention due to dime novel reading is so 19th century.

  2. jeannette

    curling the spinster lip. mmmmmmmmm!

  3. ew_nc

    There is a huge billboard in our town, advertising the upcoming gun show. The tag line is “Get your guns while you still can!” This just flummoxes me. Still can? They are all but putting handguns in Cheerios boxes. Guess that means I better stay off my IPhone while pouring my cereal in the morning.

  4. KittyWrangler

    As Wayne LaPierre would say, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a trend piece blaming the victims that the bad guy already shot to death.”

    One can only assume the writer of the original article would have been attentive and somehow heroic, unlike *those* people these days, and is probably among the chorus of people who would never get raped because they’d somehow perform the right maneuver and also not be intoxicated or naive, unlike *those* girls these days, and who would never be the victim of police or vigilante gunfire, because they would somehow Do The Right Thing instead of looking suspicious or running when they’re scared or wearing a hoodie, unlike *those* people these days.

    Those damn youngsters today, with their reading and their trusting other people and their walking around wearing stuff! Why, I’d never do a thing like that! What has this world come to?

  5. ivyleaves

    KittyWrangler, you sound like you are a regular reader of SFGate, especially the commentariat.

  6. quixote

    “Those damn youngsters today, with their reading and their trusting other people and their walking around wearing stuff!”

    And then they’d also complain if they didn’t wear stuff. Mark my words.

  7. LabRat

    SFGate sucks. As do most online news sources anymore. They’ve all decided that Huffington Post is the high water mark of journalism, and every page must include a link to a video about the lastest celebrity photographed in a bikini.

    And is anyone else completely enraged by the new format of every frickin’ news article which is always a numbered list?

    The Top Ten Reasons You’re Not Getting A Job
    Five Bedroom Techniques That Will Save Your Marriage
    The 25 Celebreties We Have Not Yet Seen In A Bikini

    Everything’s a list! Often it’s a slideshow with stock pictures of whitish people looking concerned.

    So, yes, taking the very important issue of gun violence which has nothing to do with texting and turning it “finger on the pulse of contemporary culture” piece is just crap journalism.

  8. Twisty

    I get so pissed off at slideshows on websites that sometimes, in a blind rage, I actually turn the computer off and read a book.

  9. I Live in SF

    Anybody riding trains/subways in a city behaves “oblivious.” People crammed into buses and city trains generally avoid eye contact. You ride that train every day. You see raving jacknuts out of the corner of your eye, dudes taking up too much space, smelly junkies, etc. and mind your own business. In decades past people READ newspapers and books, “oblivious” to their surroundings on the bus or subway. New York subways were notoriously dangerous for many years, long before cell phones. There is nothing new about violence on public transportation, or city people who ride trains every day being in the habit of keeping their eyes on their own business, whether it’s a book, a newspaper, a magazine, writing something for work, or keeping busy with an electronic device.

  10. Jen

    This might go without saying, but IBTP for gun violence.

    The P dehumanizes men and trains men to dehumanize women. Then, we have all of these de-humans running around on the subway, engaging in the full range of inhumane acts, from pushing neighboring bodies to get a seat, to masturbating on strangers, to shooting or even mass shooting.

    I read an article in Scientific American the other day titled “Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy.” I wonder how many of those people on their devices were reading a good novel. The majority of Americans never read them.

    Why don’t people care more about the development of empathy? (Not that novels are the only way to develop it.) Because the P, I guess, and compassion is so weak=for ladies=gay stuff.

    I know I’m not normally a praying woman, but if you’re up there, please, save us, Mr. Rogers!

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