A couple of weeks ago, a woman had her iPhone snatched out of her hand on a busy street corner in Flushing, New York (not far from where the Solipsist used to live, in fact--coincidence? You decide). Not a particularly newsworthy event, to be sure: Cellphone theft--particularly smartphone theft--has become ubiquitous. A front-page article in Thursday's paper focused on this ever-growing trend and implicitly blamed phone manufacturers for not taking all reasonable measures to make phones less attractive to thieves. But this particular theft did not unfold in the usual manner.
The woman whose phone was stolen quickly found a police officer who happened to have an iPhone of his own. He accessed the "Find my iPhone" app and discovered that the thief was still in the immediate vicinity. He jumped into his car and raced to the supposed location of the thief. The thief was no longer there, but he was still close--and up. See, he had apparently jumped onto the number 7, the elevated train that runs between Flushing and Times Square. So the policeman jumped back in his car and proceeded--sirens blaring--to do his best Popeye Doyle imitation, screaming down Roosevelt Avenue in pursuit of the suspect riding the rails above. Ultimately, the police contacted the train's conductor, who kept the doors closed while the police went through the cars, looking for the fleeing suspect. He was found and arrested and the woman got her phone back.
I can't help but wonder if this is the sort of thing we should be celebrating. I mean, I'm sure the woman is happy that she doesn't have to go through all the trouble of re-loading Angry Birds, but do we really want policemen tearing down crowded city streets--and trust me, Roosevelt Avenue is a VERY crowded city street--in pursuit of stolen consumer electronics? Is it really worth the risk to human life? Sure, we've accepted the concept that iPhones are worth more than the lives of, say, a few thousand Chinese laborers, but we're talking about American citizens here--even if they do live in Queens!