Presidential Alert: Is apathy the only answer?

Winston Heckt, Staff Writer

Amid the unending stream of shittiness over the last few weeks, I had all but forgotten about the Presidential Alert until it buzzed to life on my phone, a reminder of our government’s ability to access all our phones at any given moment. Sure, in this case the government is gaining access in the name of instant communication during national crisis situations, but my mind couldn’t help but wander toward the greater implications at play here.

    I’m not trying to pass off some tin-hat conspiracy theory wherein the Presidential Alert is just a distraction while the government hacks into our phones — the alert is just a continuation of the Emergency Alert System that already allows the president to authorize broadcasts on every TV and radio in the country — I’m just a little rattled by the reminder that there is no longer privacy in the digital hell-scape that is 2018.

   But it’s not even the loss of privacy that’s got me rattled; it was the realization that I don’t care anymore. As the Presidential Alert came and went, I thought of a line from a movie that came out this summer called “Sorry to Bother You.” It’s been a few months now, so I don’t remember the particulars, but basically the quote amounts to, “When people don’t think they can do anything about a problem, they decide to get used to it instead of trying to fix it.” That’s how I feel about the Presidential Alert.

    FEMA says it’s illegal for the president to use the alert unless it’s an emergency, but we all know the president and legality are —to say the least — at odds with each other. But, so what? What can I do if the Presidential Alert is abused? Maybe I could buy a flip phone? Or write my congressperson? Why should I care that Facebook sells our data and even the private contact information we don’t give permission to sell? Even if I delete my profile, that information has already been sold to advertisers who use it to make custom ads marketed to the individual consumer. I can’t vote Facebook out of office, so what should I do? Sign an online petition? How can I feel anything but apathy about all this? I am just one person; I have no power. So maybe it’s time to give up, tune out and accept that privacy is dead, that corporations have monetized our every click and post and that the government can do whatever it wants to our phones. Especially considering the news that catastrophic climate change is unavoidable unless drastic action is taken by 2030, I’ve been feeling overwhelmingly nihilistic.

    But even in the face of all this, my nihilism won’t last long because there is still time. The Presidential Alert isn’t some preordained act of God. Facebook isn’t destined to exploit our data. Climate isn’t set in stone. Yes, I am powerless as an individual, and that makes it easy to slip into apathy, but maybe the answer isn’t to give in — but to reach out. When we band together, we don’t have to accept things as they are; we have the power to make things as they should be.

This article first appeared in the Friday, October 12 edition of The Echo.