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Editor’s Note

by Oct. 3, 2011, 8:03 AM

A rooftop view of a Vanderbilt LifeFlight helicopter making its approach. (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)

I recently updated my Facebook status to read “I’m thinking of going off the grid.”

I wasn’t planning to disappear into the wilderness sans smart phone to live off the land. But I was experiencing a technology burnout of sorts.

Unlike five or 10 years ago, my world has become increasingly techno-centric. I blog. I Tweet. I use Facebook and Foursquare. I Google. At work, I post to the Web daily. And when I’m not at my desk staring at a giant flat-screen computer monitor, I’m checking, checking, checking my Blackberry. I’ve replaced my social life with social networking. I see friends and loved ones on Facebook, not face-to-face.

Just when I was ready to chuck my Blackberry into a fountain like Anne Hathaway at the end of The Devil Wears Prada, something happened that changed my mind: a boy went missing.

It was the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 24, and I was perusing the Vanderbilt Facebook page by way of Blackberry in hopes of finding the Commodore football scores. And there it was. William, a 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome, had gone missing from the Student Recreation Center. All were asked to keep an eye out for him.

Because we live just three miles from campus, I asked my 6-year-old boy if he was up for a drive. For the next few hours, as the sun sank low in the sky, we circled the campus, stopping Saturday night revelers, pedestrians, shopkeepers and shuttle drivers to see if they had seen William.

What was remarkable to me was how quickly what started as a Facebook post evolved into an organized, multi-tiered search effort. Concerned citizens went out on foot. A whole team of medical students were mobilized to comb the campus. Greek organizations left their parties and took to the streets. Police officers handed out flyers to patrons at cafés and bars.

Night set in, and my boy’s bedtime approached. I took him home and put him safe in his bed. Nearly asleep before his head hit the pillow, he told me to wake him when William was found, so sure he was that he would be.

But I couldn’t sleep. The 9 o’clock news came on and the top story was William’s disappearance. I wanted to cry. How terrified William’s parents must be. I could only imagine the worst.

But a few minutes later, I got an email. William had been found, safe and sound, playing basketball at McGugin Center. On the 10 o’clock news I watched the joyful family reunion and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

It may take a village to raise a child, but to find a missing one you need not only a village, but a village that’s technologically connected.

So I guess I won’t go off the grid just yet. Technology, the Internet, social networking – these tools are often used to keep a safe distance from the people that matter most.

But sometimes, when used right, they can help bring a lost boy home.