Here We Go Again — Another “Worst-First Thinking” App

Hi Folks — As I wrote to the publicist who sent me this pitch: ” How does knowing my kid is out on a field in the middle of a tornado give me ‘piece’ of mind?” Here’s what she had sent me:

Dear Lenore: Before leaving for work this morning, you recall hearing something on the news about severe weather. You can’t seem to shake the worry as thoughts about your loved ones rush in. The worry pops into mind again as you’re walking down the hall at work. As you approach an office window, a faint yet familiar sound is audible. Mary, whose desk is nearby, comes up beside you and remarks, “a tornado watch was issued earlier, I guess now it’s a warning”. The once muffled siren is now ringing in your head. Where are Kate and Sam usually at during this time of the day? Kate has Softball every Thursday, so she should be at the school, but Sam could be on the bus or getting a ride home with friends. You attempt to walk calmly back to your desk and inform coworkers of the tornado sirens on the way.  Grabbing your phone from your top drawer, you flick on a blank screen. No messages. As you file in line with your coworkers to the basement, you launch The Safety App and request the status of those in your safety group. Seconds later you receive the current or last known addresses of Kate, Sam, and the rest of your family. In addition you receive Kate and Sam’s automatic safety status’ indicating Kate is currently at practice and Sam is at a friends house. Before you’ve even reached the stairwell you’ve got the piece of mind you need to make it through this disaster….

 I’m so glad I know that Kate is at softball practice! Whew!

51 Responses

  1. Yeah, because kids are too stupid to seek shelter on their own when the weather changes. My kids come running home when the dark clouds roll in and we don’t get tornadoes here.

    I’m surprised in this scenario that the person wouldn’t know exactly how or where Sam was going after school.

  2. Yep, unless the tornado has taken out a cell tower, or the networks are overloaded with people trying to “find” their children. Substitute earthquake for tornado and you have Christchurch after September 2010’s 7.2 and February 22nd 2011’s 6.3 that decimated large areas, oh and overloading only every time they had a good shake after February 22nd for about 12 months (130+ dead left everyone a little nervous). Both quakes took out towers and the network was restricted use for non emergency service personnel due to overloading and network fragility.

  3. I guess you gave that publicist a ‘peace’ of your mind.

  4. I laughed at their pitch. My first semester at university a tornado tore through my campus. As I was evacuating my dorm dragging 2 of 4 idiots that were refusing to evacuate down the stairs, the tornado passed right by the windows if the stairwell, and took out the I-House next door. Thankfully, that dorm was empty that year due to renovations.

    When I got through to my parents, their response was what tornado. Mom was upset about the I-house, it was a beautiful building and was reduced to kindling.

  5. I want Molly Weasley’s clock – that’s an APP I could get behind 😉 Also, her self-washing dishes, and the ability to apparate.

  6. Isn’t this what Google Latitude does?

  7. I wish I didn’t know where my kids were all summer. I wish they were out running amok with their friends. However, all their friends are scheduled into camp all day every day, and there is no one to play with. So I know exactly where they are – trashing the house with legos and playing Roller Coaster Tycoon and saying “We’re borrrred.” There is literally nothing to do in our town unless you’re in some scheduled day camp. I can’t send them to the town pool (no kids under 15 without an adult), they don’t want to go to the library because it seems like schoolwork, there are no good playgrounds for bigger kids because they tore down one and the other is undergoing renovations – it’s maddening! And with both of us needing to engage in paid employment, it’s not like we can drop everything and take them places. So they hang around the house, get cranky, and we’re all miserable.

    Thank the good Lord that resident camp starts next week. They need to be tossed in the woods for a week before we all strangle each other.

  8. Wait. According the to scenario you start out knowing that Katie is at practice and you end knowing Katie is at practice. What did you gain?

    Maybe I’m just a horrible person but my mind doesn’t go haywire every time there is some bad weather. Maybe there should be an app that tells me when to worry properly…

  9. Because if she found out that Sam’s bus was in the direct path of the tornado with this app, she could spin three times, shed her work clothes, and turn into Wonder Woman. Then, she could fly her invisible plane to intercept Sam’s bus. Using her Amazon strength, she will move the bus out of the way of the oncoming tornado.

  10. hmmm actually it sounds a lot like the apps already out there that allow parents to track their kids via their mobiles. So they know where their kids are 24/7.

    A better idea might be for parents to teach their kids what to do in an emergency.

    Or you know, actually communicate and call her son about the incoming tornado rather than track his whereabouts via an app.

  11. Couldn’t she also trust the adults in Kate and Sam’s lives to help them as needed? Presumably Kate has some sort of coach (obviously an awful one if he let her stay at practice in a tornado warning, usually softball practices are outdoors!). And if Sam is old enough to get himself home he’s old enough to be taught to head to the basement if he hears the sirens.

    *Piece* of mind? I’m hoping you gave that advertisement a piece of your mind! 😉

  12. For one thing, this is sooooo 1984/Brave New World, only it’s not government imposed – we are imposing it on ourselves.

    Secondly, how does knowing where someone is help? I live in a hurricane prone area. Granted, not the same thing as a tornado or earthquake because you have advance warning. But still…knowing where someone is doesn’t keep them safe.

  13. A year ago when my son was 6 weeks old, my husband had a seizure at work and got taken to the hospital. Luckily he was at lunch with tons of other people but it could have happened anywhere where the results would have been much worse. (He’s fine now after surgery.)

    I still sometimes get worried that I’m going to get another message or call from someone saying something has happened but what I really take from it all is that things can happen anywhere and for reasons you can’t even imagine yet. You can’t possibly be worried that everyone around you is going to die at each moment so it’s best just not to worry, live your life as rationally as possible and hope that you have people to support you if you do become one of the small part of a statistic.

  14. This little drama would never play out in my head. Who thinks like this. And oh yea why, if a tornado come does knowing that you child is at softball practice easy your mind? We are a stupid people.

  15. The hypothetical parent in this scenario must live very close to work. If I were at work and heard a tornado siren my first thought, other than “my calves are seriously going to hurt tomorrow after a 23 flight descent to the basement”, would be “well, at least the kitten back at home will be well away from any potential funnel clouds.”

  16. BMS…I have the same issue…all of my daughter’s friends are fully booked with camps, and when they have any time, the mom’s book play dates far in advance.

    I am working for my children to take responsibility for their own time, and their activities. Yes, we have some camps scheduled, but not every week throughout the Summer. When my daughter sets something up with a friend, it most often does not happen. The mom has scheduled something else, and God forbid, she has to change those plans based on what her child’s plans may have been.

    How will these children ever turn into responsible adults…making their own decisions, and being responsible for their lives?

  17. It all depends on how it is used. An app that tracks the location of your children at all times just enables helicopter parenting. An app that lets you check on your kids when and if an emergency happens sounds not only useful, but something that could help children become more Free Range because parents will have the peace of mind of knowing that IF there is an emergency (and only in the case of emergency), they can get the status of their children and, hopefully, be able to contact them.

    I was in a situation where a major earthquake hit and was centered right in the middle of where I *thought* my nanny had gone with my children. I NEVER check in on them during the day and never give it a thought, but after the earthquake, that’s all that was on my mind. And for the next hour, I couldn’t get a call out on my cell phone. I’m normally very free range and don’t give a thought about what my kids are doing, but in this case, not knowing was causing panic. If I had an app like this, I would have realized that my nanny had actually taken the kids somewhere else, way outside the earthquake range, and I wouldn’t have bothered trying to call. If everyone had such an app, maybe the cell towers wouldn’t have clogged up.

  18. I’m glad you didn’t include a link to this app. That would help improve their showing up in web searches. They’ll then be able to sell more junk. Changing the actual name of products mentioned in your posts will further stimie them.

  19. There was actually a tornado watch here last night. I heard about it, thought, “Hm. I hope it’s not too hard for my wife to bike home from work in that wind,” thought briefly about calling her, then realised how stupid that would be. She could tell it was windy without me informing her. End of story. Has there never in human history been bad weather before? Why all of a sudden now does it seem like we need to be ‘aware’ of everything, as if that will help, rather than hinder, our peace of mind?

  20. We don’t have tornadoes in Germany, but in my part of the country there are a lot of summer thunderstorms. I just couldn’t imagine thinking, “There’s a heavy rain storm with lots of lightning now. But at least Herkie is outside at softball practice.”

    If I had to worry about my son every time he wasn’t home during a thunderstorm, I would be in the nearest psychiatric facility. Luckily, my son and his friends are smart enough to find shelter until a storm blows through.

  21. I was picturing a “Hunger Games”-esque video feed. Disappointing!

  22. I just stick my head out the door and yell to (or walk outside and tell) my nearest kid to find their siblings and come inside. Though if sirens are sounding, they have already started coming home…

    How does this app work? Is it dependent on someone entering information – in which case, I would hope during an actual disaster they are dealing with the situation, not fiddling with an app? Does it use some kid of GPS to track the kids – in which case, they could have left the GPS-device somewhere, or be riding a tornado with the GPS in their pocket? The app doesn’t do any more than discussing with your kid what they are doing that day, and takes away the added benefits of talking to your kids. I can’t imagine relying on an app to try to reassure myself that my kids are okay… especially since my smartphone broke a couple of weeks ago.

  23. In the world of worst-first thinking, bad weather is the new school shooting.

  24. @bms, no kids under 15 without an adult, that sucks, here i think it is 13, at least that to me, is reasonable, my 14 year old does not always want me to go with him, and i don’t know too many others that would want a parent hanging around, as his main goal is to show off for the girls.

  25. Ah, finally a place to put this story!

    About a month ago, I went with my son to his college “preview” session (where they bring in the incoming freshmen to assist them with scheduling, give them a taste of what’s coming in a couple of months, provide parents with practical information about how things work, etc.) and at the parent Q&A session the FIRST question was whether there was a means for alerting parents via SMS to campus “security situations” for this small, small town based, college. (There is, as it turns out.)

    Okay, I want to stay informed, too, but I really wondered whether the woman had her own personal SWAT team to send in when she got the text. What else was knowing INSTANTLY that her son or daughter was located on a campus where some incident was going on, going to do for her?

  26. I guess everyone just fell over dead with worry before smartphones and these apps? Or maybe they were confident that they taught their children common sense?

  27. bobca: Insane, isn’t it? We too haven’t scheduled every single week because the kids rebel due to lack of time to do their own thing. But I have tried three or four times now to invite friends over for the kids (they are both wayyyy phone shy and would rather sit and be bored than call their friends. They get that from me.) and no one is around. Either you get no response at all, or they’re booked from now until the end of time. And a lot of the day camps are so structured, they’re like being in school for heaven’s sake. As I said, can’t wait for resident camp to start next week…

  28. @Maureen: I am a known cell phone hater. I had one foisted upon me by my sister when my dad got sick. I only ever use it when traveling, because I either forget to charge it, or forget to bring it with. So okay, I am biased, I hate the things, find them annoying. But it still just astonishes me how utterly dependent on these things people are. They just can’t imagine a way to do something that doesn’t involve a phone or an app. It doesn’t even occur to them that, hey, maybe your kid could actually learn to wait for 10 minutes without looking at a screen. Or you could just jot down a note for your spouse that says ‘Went to the store’ instead of texting him with a play by play. And they get this notion that ‘Cellphone = invincible, No Cellphone = instant kidnap victim’ so that if you let your kid walk two blocks with no cell phone they’re going to be snatched off the street, but somehow having a cell phone means they will always be safe. I just don’t get it.

    I’m not saying they aren’t useful, or that no one should have them. But for the love of Pete, don’t use them to replace your brain.

  29. BMS sorry the kids are home cranky and making everyone else cranky, but good for you for not holding your ground. What do you mean, btw, with resident camp?

  30. BMS – Sorry! Meant to say – good for you for HOLDING your ground and not overscheduling them even tho all the surrounding kids are in absentia.

  31. Ummm…. the problem with this app is that it assumes my children have cell phones. Only the oldest does.

  32. As for the hypothetical situation the author described…..I don’t get it. Kate is (hypothetically) at a softball practice on a school property, so presumably, there’s an adult in charge of the team, who’d take the kids inside the school, the same as if a thunderstorm suddenly broke out, but take them into a windowless room like the gymnasium. As for Sam, he’s (hypothetically) at a friend’s house, so he and his friend could just ride out the storm in the basement. I guess what I’m saying is, no app can replace common sense, and before the advent of that app, people would just assume that their kids, or the people who were entrusted with the care of their kids at the time, would use their common sense in extenuating circumstances like a tornado.

  33. Okay so how exactly is this piece of mind in this scenario? How does establishing their location ease your mind that your children are safe in a tornado? Tornado warnings generally cover entire towns/counties, not just buildings. Unless this mother commutes a long distance to work, the school and friend’s house are also in the warning zone and a tornado could hit anyone of them. Knowing my child is at school is not very reassuring if the school is in the path of the tornado. And if she commutes a long distance, why all the worry to start with? It’s not like any of her potential scenarios had the children possibly coming to her office where the tornado warning is in effect.

  34. @ Rachel: Resident camp = sleep away camp = drop them off in another state, say “See you in a week!” and drive off yelling “FREEDOM”, sort of like in Braveheart…

  35. There is nothing such an app can do that isn’t done better, by TRUST… in your fellow humans (minors included), in logical analysis of the news, and in emergency plans (including notification). And also in understanding that the emergency takes precedence over personally being “informed” now,

    My parents encapsulated it all when I first went to sleep away camp. “You don’t need to call home, for any reason.” To the protest of “What if” they answered. “If something serious happened, like a broken leg, the people in charge would take care of it. Once they did, they would let us know.” This stood us all in good stead through major and minor situations alike.

    On 9/11, I watched the towers fall, from a safe distance. But even the land line phones at my school went down from the call volume. However, knowing my parents wouldn’t panic, I felt comfortable waiting for reliable service to return before giving a quick call.

    When I was 17, a wild fire started close to our house shortly after school, and ripped a path between home and the city where I normally would go that day of the week. Dad had no contact with either me, or my mom, until nearly midnight. But he trusted the police to close unsafe roads. He trusted us to evacuate, and to come home when able.
    When a pipe-bomb was detonated next to my school (news of two students in “serious but stable condition” and bomb “at” the school). My parents showed the worst panic they have ever exhibited. The news was 6hrs old, classes ended hours ago, no note on the fridge, no daughter. Sill, they trusted that the school, police, and hospital would have called and found them if I’d been hurt. The fear eating at mom was that I was being held by the police for questioning. And even though (or perhaps because) I had once been improperly question by police, they trusted I would assert my rights if there was any hit of accusation. They didn’t bug the school or police over it. They just waited at home for my arrival, preparing to comfort me whatever the news. The school suppressed the news, and the day continued as usual. I had gone to dance with no idea that every station in a 60 mile radius would be reporting a bomb at my school on the evening news.

    My parents have rubbed off on me. When the Virginia earthquake hit, I made sure there were no reports of serious local damage, checked the daycare company’s emergency message system, then went back to work (okay and checked again in an hour, and I felt like I was being hyper). As it turned out the daycare center had its hands full of parents and wasn’t able to get word to the corporate emergency system. When I arrived two may two and a half hours later, out of about 100 kids, there were 2. Also a dozen caregivers. They were both fine, if a little excited from the snack food, juice boxes, and attention.

  36. @BMS Fellow cell phone hater here. The only reason my husband and I have cell phones is because his parents bought them and pay for the service. I think we use them maybe once a month, and most times even those calls could have been done on a landline phone. Neither of us tends to talk much on the phone anyhow.

    We were both annoyed when his father tried to get us to agree to a smartphone upgrade. He wanted us to have at least one smartphone because “the kids need to know how to use one.” Well, about a month later I won an iPad in a drawing, and funny thing, it only took the kids a very short time to figure out how to use it, and that’s very much like using a smartphone.

    As for the app mentioned above, not remotely soothing. Location alone isn’t enough information in an emergency, and as others have said, someone will find a way to notify you in the event of a real problem for your child.

    And how lonely my kids are too this summer! Friends just don’t seem to be around. Our one scheduled activity, the swimming lessons I insist my kids take each summer, didn’t take that much time away from what could be spent with friends, if only they were available.

  37. It always amazes me when people try to insist that I call them upon arrival at a destination when traveling, particularly plane travel. I always told them that I would call if there was a problem that I thought they could help with, but if they were really worried, to turn on the TV. Any plane crash/hostage situation/lost planes/onboard emergencies will be breaking news. If there are no news reports, the plane made it fine.

    Odds are everything will be okay. And if it’s not, you can’t do anything about it from a distance. What exactly is this hypothetical woman to do if the app tells her that her kids are not where she thought they were? Or if the app is not working? Worry just like we have done for millenia. And why does knowing exactly where your children are change that worry? I suppose it would if you found out your Los Angeles resident child was actually in Las Vegas when a major earthquake hit Los Angeles. But knowing that my child is at school during a tornado doesn’t actually alleviate any worry concerning the tornado. It just gives me a definite building to worry about the tornado destroying.

  38. The first thing that strikes me reading this is that this publicist isn’t very good at her job, or she would have known not to let something like this get anywhere near Lenore!

  39. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend when my middle son was nine.

    Son asked to go to the park with his friend.

    I asked him if he had his watch so he could come back on time. He admitted that he didn’t (he’d broken and lost a variety of watches)… so I didn’t let him go.

    I mentioned this to a friend who said ‘you should just get him a phone… then you can call him when he needs to come home.’

    And here I thought he just needed a watch and a lesson in being responsible for himself, by looking at the watch and coming home when he’s supposed to.

    What was it you called that article of yours, Lenore — “Get a Cell Phone, become a baby.”

    I’ve noticed recently that my seven year old is the only kid his age we know who wears a watch — because apparently no one else lets their kids head over to a friends with instructions to return at X time.

  40. Actually can’t understand myself why reports of severe weather would cause me to worry about my loved ones. I would expect my loved ones to pack raincoats in their bags, stay inside or find shelter if there are trees or roofing iron blowing down the street, and just generally use their brains. This app sound bizarre.

    When will there be an app for common sense? That might actually be useful.

  41. I kept reading thinking she would fix the “piece of mind” but it didn’t happen, did it? My red pen hand was itching horribly.

  42. Also, admittedly I’m thick as two short planks, but I had to go and look this thing up, and it’s talking about being a ‘smartphone’ app. Does that presuppose that my whole ‘safety group’ has ‘smart’ phones, as opposed to really stuid ones? Is it considered common sense to give, for instance, an 11 year old an expensive phone? Or does it somehow pick up signals from ‘dumb’ phones as well? Or out of the ether, somehow, if your kid doesn’t have any kind of mobile, or just leaves the thing at home? Or what if your own ‘smart’ phone runs out of battery every few hours, as mine does.

    This is all too confusing. I think an actual disaster might be marginally less problematic than all these apps….

  43. @heather. There is an app for hen to worry. Actually there are several. It’s called a tornado WARNING. A Tornado Warning means that there is an immediate threat to life and property- seek shelter now! The average toranado lead time (time between when you hear the sirens and when you see the tornado) is 15 min, however it CAN be as short as under a minute.

    While I agree the articles safety app seems silly, taking Tornado warnings seriously is just good common sense!

  44. @BMS – my kids have the same problem…all their friends are at camp and they only have each other to play with. Good thing I have 3 so they can entertain each other:)

    Am I the only one more annoyed with the number of typos and grammatical errors than the actual app? Someone was paid to write this? Can I please have that job?

  45. So many apps, does anyone think for themselves anymore? Do we constantly need the instant gratification? Instead of stalking your kids, teach them some common sense and a few life skills. My son and his friends stayed out in the rain until the counts between the lightning and thunder got to a few seconds, then they knew it was time to come inside.

  46. @BMS – oh! Okay – sleepover/sleepaway. Yes – that’s the best kind. (I do remember being frightened when, at age 7, I went to one for a week. I hated the polar bear swim, got yelled at by older campers, and felt creeped out at night. Plus my parents mixed up the day they were coming to get me and I worried the whole week I’d spend a night there by myself (I did not).) But, anyway, I’m still glad I went. Glad I was pushed outside my comfort zone.

  47. How can this thing POSSIBLY give peace of mind? I can only see it doing the opposite.

    If you don’t have the app, you can just hope that your child used sense and got to a safe place to wait things out. But you can’t be 100% sure, so you will still more or less worry if it really does turn out to be a serious situation, until you know for sure. That’s just life.

    If you have the app, and you expect it to give you peace of mind, then if and only if it indicates that the child is in a safe place, will you not totally panic. But you’ll still be in the same position as the person without the app — you’ll still worry until you know for sure. That’s just life, but it’s not “peace of mind.” After all, tornadoes still kill people in shelters.

    If you have the app, and you expect it to give you peace of mind, and it DOESN’T indicate that the child got to a place of safety, you will go insane with worry since the thing you were investing with the ability to keep your mind at peace, just failed you, and now you have psychological “permission” not merely to imagine the worst, but to expect it.

  48. Since Emily mentioned Molly Weasley’s clock, I have to say that this app reminds me of another of Rowling’s inventions: the Remembrall, a jewel that glows brightly if its owner has forgotten something important. Needless to say, it does not provide any indication of what that important thing is. I’m pretty sure she was inspired by Douglas Adams on that one. There’s no way this app could be any more useful, though I can see several ways in which it could be less.

  49. We get no cell reception at my house. So if I am home, then I would have to walk up the hill. If it were my kids, I really wouldn’t know if they had let the battery die or if they were home.

    At my house, if the sirens go off, it means the nuclear power plant that is 9 miles away is about to blow. (Which, due to 911, we couldn’t find on a map before we moved here, not that a couple of miles really makes much of a difference in this case.) If kids are at home alone, I do need to give them a plan, something like, “Forget the animals, get in a car with a neighbor and go with them. Take Dad’s cell phone that he never uses with you if you can remember. Have neighbors drop you at the emergency evacuation site if they are going elsewhere. Dad and I will meet you there.

    But in reality, my kids are more likely to end up with funky exposure from the Superfund site near the nuclear power plant. There will be no sirens for that. My daughter would love a working Geiger Counter though.

  50. If I heard my `Kate’ was at softball practice in the middle of a tornado, I would be concerned because there are no buildings in the middle of the baseball diamonds we play at, they’re in remote locations! I’d rather NOT know and have my own version of `peace of mind’ thinking how resourceful and kind the coaches, teachers, and/or friends were at taking care of someone else’s kids in a stressful situation. Sometimes it’s better not to know, rather than stress yourself out over something you have NO control over. So I know where Kate and Sam are, that doesn’t make them safe places to be in the middle of a tornado!

  51. @Mike in Virginia It’s all about how things are used, isn’t it?

    As the app is described, it’s pointless. You only have a few mins, so you have to teach the kids to seek shelter and leave them to it.

    Similarly, my friend’s husband works for a ticketing company, so they make those disposable wristbands that you get for festivals. They are very hard to remove, and will last for ages, even though getting wet. They will sell those is small quantities with whatever you want on them, so you could use them at Disneyland or at the mall: If this child gets lost and asks you for help, please call [parent’s number].

    My friend’s version of the message is fairly helicopter, but I think you could write it to be free-range friendly, in cooperation with your child.


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