Last seen today at 7:06am. Having sent three text messages in the intervening five hours, all of which had gone unanswered, my heart rate increased. As someone whose baseline anxiety is already high enough that my watch frequently prompts me to take a ‘breathing break’, I didn’t need the added stress.
One of my superpowers is that I can always identify the worst-case scenario and every potential horror in any situation. Several clinicians over the years have invited me to have a more Tinkerbell approach to life. “Think happy thoughts,” or “focus on the positive,” they say. But my brain just doesn’t work like that.
My husband uses his phone for work, it’s rarely out of his hand. I’ve often sent a text only to get an automatic reply, via his watch, to tell me he’s in a meeting and will get back to me, along with some kind regards. But not on this day.
He had left the house early to use the gym in work. Another person might have reasoned that perhaps his phone died from listening to music while jogging. My brain decided he was slouched over a treadmill or had been crushed by a dumb-bell — if he had even made it as far as the gym.
If I’d had the capacity to stay calm, I might have summoned the wherewithal to log in to the Find My Friends app, which gives a real-time location update on the person you’re tracking. At least that way I would have known where his phone was, even if he was dead alongside it.
I didn’t stay calm. I rang his boss to check when she had last spoken to him. She told me 9am. The fear that he had collapsed under the exertion of a tough workout left me. However, she hadn’t heard from him since and it was now noon. I could hear her worry. My husband is as reliable an employee as he is a spouse. The hunt was on.
I’ll spare you the melodrama of my sprint into the office where he works, the tears as I knocked on the male toilet cubicles, and the downright hysteria I caused. The Mayo Man turned out to be in a scheduled meeting, which was on his calendar if any of us had looked — but the film-noir plot had taken us captive instead.
My particular brand of generalised anxiety makes me predisposed to understand and support the nervous parents who were written about in a recent article I read. The piece asked readers whether it is OK to track your children. There has been a proliferation of new child-tracking methods in the past few years, with more than 100 different devices or apps available, and an equal number of opinions on the topic. Is it a responsible and protective measure or some kind of Orwellian limit to your child’s freedom and privacy?
One app, Life360, has been the centre of most debates. It allows parents to track and be notified when their child reaches each set destination. Some parents argue that it removes the need for pestering or nagging their child to answer the phone. Many insist that their kids prefer to be tracked than having to update their folks via text every hour.
The instinct to protect your children, and to be reassured that they are safe, is a primal parental urge, but it can slip into dangerous territory when geo tracking turns into geofencing — where a parent will be alerted that their child’s phone has entered or exited a certain area.
In my case, you could argue that tracking my husband — which I can do via our car, our doorbell, our house alarm or our phones and watches — is a sign of distrust. Perhaps it’s even an indication that I’m mere metres away from turning into Kathy Bates’s character in Misery. The Mayo Man and I don’t see it like that. Most of the time, when I have a general sense of where he is, I have no impulse to ask. In times when I can’t get through to him, or if he’s not where he said he would be, it’s reassuring to be able to check rather than cause chaos with his colleagues because, in a panic, I have lost access to logic and reason.
If tracking is replacing communication, or is clandestine or invasive, that’s a very different story. The same goes for parenting. If you want reassurance that your child is safe and alive, and they’re happy with it, fine. But if you’re using it to control and police their teenage years, which are about boundary-pushing and figuring out how to navigate the world, there’s a big chance you’re the one who’ll be caught in the long run.