Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Culture of Fear

I was going to write an enlightening article about Richard Dadd, my favourite batshit crazy Victorian artist and painter of Fairy Feller's Master Stroke, but certain events have persuaded me that I need to share the exciting story of my evening instead. (And why I'm currently not staying at my home.)
So, this morning, as I was putting on my shoes, I happened to brush up against the burglar alarm just inside the door of my small apartment. I heard its sinister beep, and thought "Gee, I hope I didn't just activate that." I quickly hit the "reset" key and a few other keys for good measure. They made deceptively reassuring beeping sounds.
I've mainly ignored the thing since I moved in. The burglar alarm was one of those features that the corporate receptionist liked to point out when she was giving tours of the apartment. Along with the garbage disposal and the gym. When I moved in, I got a manual, which I stuck somewhere. I mean, seriously, my apartment's tiny. If it did get broken into, I'd probably run into the burglar en-route to use the burglar alarm to call the cops. "Oh, gee, mister. Just let me hit F5, F8, my secret code, and the "." key. What? No, you can't have my jewelry box!"
A bucket of ice water balanced over the door would be a more effective burglar deterrent, especially given the outpouring of caring I got from the neighbours when I trudged down the hall to my apartment, weary from another day of dragging the block up the pyramid called "The Sims 2 Expansion Packs", and opened the door to my apartment, setting off the burglar alarm. Beeeeeeeeeeeeep......Weeooohweeooohweeeohhh (for about ten minutes at a few billion decibels). God, I hope it's not calling the cops, I thought. Turns out you need to punch in a keycode and a special "dial the cops" sequence for that, as noted above. For the most part, loud as it was, the neighbours ignored it. A young couple walked by en route to their apartment. "I accidentally set off my own burglar alarm," I said. "Do you know the default keycode?" They were really friendly. Showed me how to unplug it and gave me what they guessed was the default code.
I went back and set off the alarm again. Because apparently the default codes vary between apartments. Also, the little bastard has battery power so it can give you a false sense of security even when the power is off.
You need the keycode to shut it off. Unfortunately, I don't know the keycode since I never set one.
I thought, "well, maybe the keycode is in my lease agreement," but I'm not quite sure where I put that, and was also afraid that the neighbours might start to pay attention (and not in a good way) if I set off the alarm yet again.
So I called a cab so I could go crash at my boyfriend's place.
It struck me, reading the alarm manual, how totally superfluous they are. There was an instruction page on what special sequence of keys to press if the intruder forces you to disable the alarm. Well, the damn thing doesn't even call the police, and the neighbours don't give a crap, so why would the intruder even care? And how many people have ever been in that situation, anyway? How many actual burglaries are prevented or deterred by these things? Also, the things involve setting a keycode for motion sensors over every door and window. I imagine you can keep the same one....but with every keycode you set, the risk of you accidentally triggering the alarm and forgetting the code increases. It's like having a really loud BIOS password to your own apartment.
I think if burglar alarms do serve a function, it's to give people peace of mind more than it is to actually prevent and deter burglaries. I'd recommend sleeping with a baseball bat under your bed as a cheap and safe alternate.

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