If you tweet “911,” you have 137 characters left
My age is showing.
When Linda Lawrey recently shared a post from All Twitter, at first glance it sounded like the stupidest thing that I had ever read.
The Japanese government is considering taking steps to make Twitter and other social networks an official emergency call system.
Yes, Twitter. We have enough problems placing emergency calls from anything other than a landline, and now people want to tweet disasters? And, as someone noted in a comment on Lawrey’s thread, if the person already has a phone, why not call in the emergency instead of tweeting it?
My initial reaction, however, neglected three important points. First, the discussion is taking place in Japan, not in the United States. Second, the discussion takes account of times in which people don’t have phones:
There are upsides to a move like this, including more ways for citizens to contact their ambulance, police and fire departments if they don’t have access to a phone – a situation which happened for many Japanese citizens during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In the aftermath of the disaster, many people reported not being able to reach emergency personnel due to voice networks being overcrowded.
Third, I completely failed to account for generational issues. I am of the generation that traditionally uses the telephone as a voice communication mechanism. Yes, I use my smartphone for other purposes, but a phone is a phone is a phone.
But that’s not true for younger people. In a Pew Research study, 38% of all teens contacted their peers by cell phone, compared to 30% who talk on landline phones.
But 54% of teens communicate with their peers via text message.
I don’t know the numbers for Japan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if text message use is even higher over there.
In an environment like that, the ability to place emergency “calls” via a service like Twitter is not only desirable, but a necessity.