Social Studies 2.0

So. There it was. An iPhone just laying there under the front passenger seat of my cab. Should I pick it up? I knew it wasn’t the taxi driver’s because he was chatting up his friend on his phone while he zoomed me down 5th Avenue. Yeah, I gotta pick it up. Should be easy to just call the owner and tell him/her, “Hey busy guy/girl, ya left your iPhone in the cab.”

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I reach down, pick it up. Hit the home button, slide the slider… oh crap. It’s got that damn password block on it. The one my teenage son uses so I won’t read his text messages. I guess at a few passwords. Of course, that doesn’t work. Crap. Now what do I do? It’s impenetrable.

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I ask on Twitter what do I do with an iPhone I found that is locked? Most tell me to take it to an AT&T store. They can track it by GPS. But, I don’t want to do that… so impersonal. It would release me from my decent sense of civil obligation to personally return this phone safely to its owner.

Hey, what’s that? A tweet comes through from @steamykitchen. I look her up on my iPhone. She’s in Tampa, a food writer with a lot of followers. Hummm. Not likely she’ll know my iPhone owner. But, what the heck… Maybe she’s a sister; a college roommate? I send her a Tweet. No luck. I realize the Tweet notifier came through as “emFeigen.” (which I stupidly don’t recognize as her twitter ID). I google emFeigen. Nothing. I search “Emily Feigen Twitter.” Nothing. Shoot. We’re so close, but so far.

The iPhone is running out of battery. Luckily, I have my charger in my bag. I arrive at NYU Parent’s Day at the Kimmel Center, and I’m worrying about the iPhone. I settle into my seat in the auditorium and spot an electric outlet near me on the wall. I discreetly charge the iPhone.

The kickoff speech is over. I check the iPhone and see there are texts coming in. Mom, Shara, some other names, nothing that gives me a clue how to contact the owner.

Finally, a phone number texts to the iPhone… I text back, “You just txted someone’s iPhone. Please tell that persion I have her/his iPhone. It was left in a taxi in NY.” A text comes back, “Thanks for texting back! Where are you? Still in NY?” Yay! I feel good. I’m only one degree of separation removed from the owner. Connected.

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It turns out the owner’s name is Emma, not Emily. Emma’s friend calls me while I’m in the rest room. I tell her I’ll be at NYU all day; my name is Susan. I eventually hear from Emma. She reaches me while I’m eating lunch with my daughter at a neighborhood Italian restaurant. She’s two blocks away. She says she’ll come by in ten minutes. She arrives with a beautiful bouquet of three dozen roses and offers to give me money. I flatly refuse the money, but am happy about the flowers because I know my daughter will love to have them in her dorm room. Emma is very sweet and very grateful. I had learned from her friend she is a chef downtown. I feel good about humanity.

It turns out, it was a banner social media day. The reason I was receiving so many texts on the iPhone is Emma wrote this note on her Facebook wall:

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Because of the volume of texts I received, I was able to text back to the one number she did not have in her address book. (If a text from a friend comes up, you only see the friend’s name, not the number.)

Later, I text Emma and ask her for her Twitter ID and I ask her to friend me on Facebook. I tell her I’m a blogger and would like to post about this encounter and take a screen shot of her Facebook wall. She agrees.

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In this simple vignette, I affirm for myself that the social web is bringing out the best in people. It’s connecting us in ways that are wonderful and useful. During the dotcom era I was a CMO for a digital startup. Our tagline was a question– “What happens when everyone is connected to everything?” In the late 90s, we didn’t know; the question was rhetorical. A decade later, the answers are unfolding.

The more connected I become, the more hopeful I am about the transformative, empowering changes that are taking place in society as a result of moving from an atoms-constrained planet to a pervasive-digital world. Yes, I know it’s only a minority of individuals who are connecting today, but the connections we’re making and the do-good we’re doing is establishing a new social order among civilized humans. With the exploding growth of mobile connectivity and ubiquitous access to the web, those in power to change our world are getting the job done in a spirit of service and humility.

So maybe it was only a lost iPhone and a grateful owner today, but the premise of humans helping humans via Twitter, Facebook, and SMS messages, is becoming the rule and not the exception.

And I’m loving every moment of it.

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