(Wrote this after it happened months ago, but was unsure what to do with it. But I’m in a “publish and be damned” mood today because I’ve been drinking, so here it is.)
Last night I found myself in a station waiting room, killing time waiting for my connecting train. As I sit down I find a lost mobile on the next seat.
This has happened to me before, and it’s no big deal. Just find a contact that says “home” or a text conversion with someone who is obviously a family member, ring them up, ask for their address and then put the phone in the post. It costs a few quid in postage, but it’s my Good Deed for the month. It’ll readdress the karmic imbalance from all the Ikea-pencils I’ve been stealing.
I switched the phone on … to be greeted with a screenful of possibly the most brutal and explicit “erotic fiction” you could possibly imagine. I mean: I can’t really claim to be a connoisseur about such things – but to me it seemed pretty intense.
It’s 10pm on a Thursday-night and I’ve had a long day trying to appear normal and enthusiastic to students. I’m tired, and quite frankly this was all a bit of a shock. I have a delicate constitution, you know. I couldn’t help noticing the poor standard of grammar, too. Given the content, it’s odd that this bothered me as much as it did.
I find myself looking around to see if there’s one of those prank camera crews around, but don’t see one. This seems genuine – someone was obviously reading this whilst waiting for their train. I can just imagine that the train rolled-up whilst they were … otherwise distracted … and in a panic, they ran for the train and left their phone behind.
I hit “Back” in the text reader, and am presented with the owner’s collection of personal reading. Dozens of short stories; all with a common theme. “Two female hikers go backpacking in Europe and hitch a lift with a rugby team.” “Girl goes to collect her car from the garage but can’t pay her bill.” That theme seems to be gang rape.
I keep hitting “back”, to take me away from the scary and nasty and poorly-written and hopefully towards something that looks like a contacts list. I’m taken back to the start screen, with the usual clock and apps on it.
The picture on the backdrop is … of a young couple – late twenties, early thirties – having a dance at their wedding reception. Suddenly, my mental image of this phone’s owner is not that of a dirty old pervert, but a much younger man.
So I look in the contacts, to see if there’s a “Home” or “Mum&Dad” entry. There’s an entry for “Me”. Great. I select it: revealing that this phone isn’t his – it’s hers. From her profile picture on the phone, she looks quite sweet. Just the sort of girl you’d be happy to take home to meet mum and dad … as long as you hadn’t hitched a lift with a rugby team to get there.
Well, this is just a rollercoaster of a ride, isn’t it? Of course, the logical part of me knows that all sorts of people read porn, and it doesn’t have anything to do with age or gender … but her appearance is about as far from the stereotypical rape-porn reader as you could imagine. She looks like a preschool teacher! I’m conscious that the reason I’m finding this curious is as much about shocking my preconceptions as it is about digging to see what else I’ll find.
By this point, I’m unashamedly searching through her phone. It’s voyeuristic, it’s wrong … but it’s also fascinating to realise how much you can find out about someone’s entire life and family, just from interrogating that tiny little unasuming gadget that everyone owns. It’s not just a phone, people: it’s a spy. It accompanies you everywhere, and it takes notes.
From her contacts and her text messages, I can see that she’s married. I can read about her husband: his job, his worries about his workload, his frequent problems with delayed trains on his commute. I can see where she works and what she does. I see that she describes her beliefs as “Faery/Wiccan/Narnian”. I can see that her sister-in-law is having problems with her small business and everyone is worried. I can see conversations with colleagues about work.
And I can tell that her “bestie” … is really her bestie. Judging from the text conversation, it looks like her bestie joined her and her husband last weekend for something called “co-domming” (if you can’t guess what that is, I wouldn’t ask Google from your work computer). And she was part way through a conversation making arrangements and choosing safewords for this weekend, before she lost her phone.
It strikes me that the power I now hold over this woman is terrifying. Though judging by what I know of her: she might enjoy it. If this phone had fallen into the hands of a bastard, she’d be in a lot of trouble. As it happens, it’s fallen into my hands, and I’m just tired and want to get home. The worst thing I might do is blog about it.
I find the number of her husband, and ring it. Goes to voicemail. Never mind, I’ll try later. My train arrives.
Whilst on the train, the phone rings. I answer it.
“Hello … erm, I think you’ve got my phone?” She sounds terrified. “No problem, don’t worry about it.” I say. “Give me your address and I’ll get it in the post to you.”
She gives me her address, and I write it down. We say goodbye. And just before she hangs up, she says (sounding a little less terrified) :
“So, do you work for the Lost-Property office?”
And I reply with “No, I just found it on my way home.”
I hear the terror return as she realises I could be anybody. “Oh, right …” she says, as I hang up.
The moral of this story is: your mobile is both a blessing and a curse. You owe it to yourself and everyone in your life to set the PIN code on it.
And before any of you ask: no, I didn’t keep her number. You weirdos.