I grew up in a small town and always asked; What’s the funny thing in the center of town. I later learned it was an air raid siren. I never heard it and at some point in my youth, it vanished. It’s 2019 now and we all carry a personal device with us. In my new home town of Toronto, technology has re-invented the air raid siren and put it in my pocket, able to be triggered by local police in the event of much less tragic emergencies. This Thursday, it was used.
At 11:36pm last Thursday, I was asleep in bed. The air raid concealed in my phone went off. Loudly. I jumped up hard enough to hurt my neck. WTF was that?!?!
I looked at my phone. I can’t remember if I had to click anything or if the noise stopped, but it certainly demanded attention. An 11-year-old girl was abducted and the driver of a car identified as a Honda with a full licence plate number was apparently responsible. The alert informed me they were eastbound on the 401, which is a major highway across the city with 95% coverage by cameras I can watch online in real time full colour.
I do not want to belittle the emotional drama that a child abduction causes. It is a very real and serious thing, however I am concerned at the use of the new Amber Alert system which disrupts the attention of approximately 3 million people in and around this gigantic city.
I lay back down but had a very difficult time falling asleep because I anticipated the alarm “might” go off again alerting us all that the situation was resolved. My head was filled with a mixture of emotions ranging from outrage to fear to conspiracy and scenarios of how this could become a regular feature of my phone and my new life. Indeed, a full hour later, the disruption was repeated, giving the all clear. Life was good and we could resume our activities.
Amber Alerts work… so expect they may be used again. This scares me.
I excepted to wake to outrage online or at least commentary. I saw none. It went without comment anywhere I viewed for the next few days. I suspect nobody wanted to appear petty and complain about how their life had been inconvenienced in the light of the fact that a little 11-year-old girl was saved from whatever tragic future we imagined during that hour wait between sirens.
This Saturday morning, I saw the first post online praising the system.
My reaction was filled with variety. Praising its effectiveness made me angry for different reasons. It made me frightened and it made me sad. My mind once again flooded with conspiracy theories and scenarios of ways this annoyance could be used for various alerts in the future.
I imagined waitresses still working a peak shift in a bar dropping trays with 6 beers on me because it understandably made her jump when 5 phones at a bar went off super loudly without warning.
I imagined a situation where the alert may even have been faked, so police outside a building somewhere now know there are suspects inside a building hiding behind a wall because they could hear the alarms. Imagine how useful it would be to law enforcement if they had a way to turn our phones into noise boxes.
I imagined cheating spouses being discovered in the closet at 11:30 at night.
I imagined several key lines of dialogue being missed in a theatre as phones went off in sequence for several minutes while movie patrons rushed to silence their phones.
I imagined people with heart conditions being startled enough to fall. I imagined people without heart conditions being startled enough to fall.
I imagine people being startled enough to lose attention while driving, and the roads were particularly dangerous that Thursday. I can easily imagine car accidents caused by this sudden noise nobody expected at midnight. Sober or drunk, it would be hard not to be affected by such a loud jolt.
I imagined millions of people with mental illness issues being triggered by the alert, both as a loud scary noise, and also a reminder of how evil the world can be. The alert gives us enough information to form an imaginary scenario of trauma. I imagine it was very distressing for anyone ever abducted or raped or — or just about anyone who has feelings.
I imagined insomniacs screaming bloody murder because they’d finally fallen asleep after trying for hours, and not being able to fall asleep again because of the open endedness of this tragedy.
I imagined parents of missing children feeling cheated the police didn’t do that for their kid.
I imagined thousands of people rushing the police to use their Amber alert for whatever crimes they feel are urgent to them.
I imagined the next alert to be for a lost kitten.
I imagined the story of the boy who cried wolf, brought to the technology age in a world with less patience and shorter tempers. I am sure I’m not the only one that disabled the feature on my phone the next morning.
Now I get to imagine 2 million other people being killed by an emergency 3 weeks later as a tornado destroys their home because they turned off the Amber Alert tone. I don’t know if my phone alerts me to Tornados. I only know it;’s called the Amber alert, so I suspect it alerts me to missing children. I think my car radio might do a better job. I do know that if I am alerted to a Tornado next week, I won’t know it, because I will almost certainly still be in my home, ignoring the wolf call my phone is making, thinking it’s another child taken.
There are some things I would excuse the alert for, but alas… I’ve turned it off.
I ponder if I would have been so upset if she had been abducted at 3pm.
Most of all, I imagine myself lying awake in bed, waiting for the expected second alarm that may or not come, but probably will come moments after I fall asleep again. I lie awake thinking all these things. Thinking how this 11 year old girl in a car on a known highway may have spoiled it for future abducted children.
I imagined the outrage like mine would flood social media. It did not. A girl was lost and found and I suppose nobody wanted to complain about such trivial disturbances in light of that.
I suspect it will continue. I am sad I most imagined it being fake, so it could be used more often for all the other things I imagined that I did not post here. My brain is faster than my fingers. In the moment the air raid siren went off beside my head while I slept, I imaged a world I did not like living in.