Earlier this week, California sent out a statewide Amber Alert in the hopes of finding a young girl kidnapped by a man who murdered her mother and little brother. The alert came late at night, waking and startling a number of area residents who weren’t too keen on this new technology.
You’ll also find people who were shocked to discover that the gov’t had the ability to track and contact them via text message. Though I’m not sure that this qualifies as “shocking” information in a post-Snowden era.
Given the public outrage, the Interwebs are also teeming with articles teaching you how to turn off this feature. Even news articles extolling the virtues of the Amber Alert are more than happy to tell you how to silence it. And the state of California (which has more pressing matters to deal with like this or this) decided to create an opt-out for those poor souls who had their lives cruelly interrupted and would like to prevent the scourge of the alert in the future.
The Amber Alert system was created to recover kidnapped children by telling people in the area to be on the lookout for a particular vehicle or person. It has been instrumental in the recovery of hundreds of children. And given that Americans are eschewing television and radio for the siren’s song of their smartphones, broadcasting Amber Alerts via text message is critical to future success, not to mention common sense.
Also, how many of the very people griping about how they were inconvenienced by the 10:54PM alert jumped on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram at 10:56PM to share their upset with the world? Oh, so that law enforcement bulletin was unnecessary, but your expletive-laced status update was a revelation that simply could not wait until morning?
I’m not sure why so many intelligent, decent people are weighing the possibility of protecting a child from harm against a momentary inconvenience and coming up on the wrong side of that calculus, but I find the whole situation frustrating and disheartening.
What does it say about the strength and health of our society when we treat public safety like a consumer product and convince a government entity to make a critical law enforcement/public safety tool less effective because we don’t want to be bothered?
And before you rush to disable the public announcement function on your phone, remember that Amber Alerts have rescued 656 children. And this alert, which is now being broadcast in four states, might rescue a young girl from a man who murdered her family and has probably harmed her.
Public alerts are also how you find out about natural disasters and other community impacting events. So if you’re not worried about the safety of a child you’ve never met, or you doubt you’ll be in a position to help him/her, think about the fact that you might want to know they next time there’s a flash flood or a terrorist attack. (How do you think all those Bostonians knew to stay indoors during the hunt for the Marathon bombers?)
If this young girl were my daughter or my sister or my friend, I would want every set of eyes looking for her. And the potential that a late night alert could bring a child safely home is way more important to me than the five minutes of sleep I would lose, seven minutes if I decide to Instagram a screen capture of the alert.
So what do you think: Would you turn off the Amber Alert system? Or do you think it’s worth it?