Yes, yes, I can already hear the "get off my lawn" chorus, but before you dismiss the idea, try this experiment the next time you're out and about: Look around you and try figure out a rough percentage of your fellow diners, shoppers and commuters that is not currently poking away at their smartphones. The last five times I tried, it was approximately 25 percent. That meant that if someone started choking on his steak tartare...or a potential purse thief sidled up...or a pedestrian stepped out suddenly into the road...three quarters of the people around wouldn't have had a prayer of reacting in time.
Don't get me wrong: Smartphones in general are a net benefit in just about every way. (We've even run a recent article on some terrific apps that shooters will love.) The point is simply that when you are engaged with your phone, whether you're having a text conversation, playing a game, surfing the Net or checking your work e-mail, your eyes are focused on the screen and your brain has relegated everything around you to background noise. Even if you have terrific peripheral vision and a strong multitasking capability—some do—you're still hobbling your ability to proactively react to developing situations around you. When you're focused on your phone, you have essentially rendered yourself "Condition White."
So how to balance off the insistent buzzing of incoming messages and notifications against your personal defense strategy? When you're considering whether to pull the phone out, think of it as if you were contemplating doing something else that would put you in Condition White—sleeping. Ask yourself, "If I were to take a brief nap, right here, right now, would that be a reasonably safe thing to do?" So if you were driving a car, the answer would be "no." If you were pulled over in a well-traveled and policed rest area with your doors locked, for you the answer might be "maybe, for a few minutes anyway."
You may have noticed by this point that this article's title refers to self-defense for women, and that there's nothing gender-specific about any of the above advice. Where this becomes of particular interest to those of us on the distaff side is that we may find it harder to distance ourselves from the siren call of the incoming text: A recent study has indicated that women are more prone to smartphone "addiction" than men. Additionally, many women use their smartphones almost like a shield, to send the message that they don't wish to be bothered by strangers or that they're uncomfortable with a conversation. It's a form of nonverbal communication meant to say "back off." The problem is that, to a predator, it says something quite different: "I am ignoring my surroundings, and also I have a valuable item here in my hand that would be pretty easy for you to take."
Cultivate Condition Yellow. As wonderful as smartphone technology is, it's no substitute for awareness.