About an hour after my last post, I was walking back to my friend’s apartment in Dupont Circle looking for directions on my iPhone. I was still getting used to all the features of a smart phone after using my small Nokia for the last 3 months in the Philippines. I had forgotten that phones had cameras, boasted color screens, and needed to be charged more than once a week. The whole world was at my fingertips and I was submerged again into maps, picture-taking, and uploading new apps just because they were free. Technology had sucked me away from my tangible surroundings into a LinkedIn library complete with Facebook and Twitter. (Read Tech Crazed by my college roommate for a further discussion on our technological dependence.)
And so, I had my attention so closely focused on my iPhone that I didn’t hear anyone come up behind me. Before I knew what had happened, a young black male had taken my beloved touch-screen friend out of my hand and ran until he disappeared down the street. I screamed after him and even tried running, but my large purse and flip-flips were no match for his sneakers and nerves. It was hopeless.
It struck me that I had spent a total of 11 weeks in a country known for kidnapping, murders, Muslim rebel groups, and prostitutions rings just to have my phone stolen 2 days after returning to the US. As a traveler, I had let my guard down as soon as I stepped foot off the plane at JFK. I felt safe in my country, walking among trusted Americans. But even here, the pursuit of happiness is difficult for many. What kind of life did this young man lead, causing him to steal from others? I do not think the thief felt my pain, did not pity my sense of loss or isolation. I had more than he did: more money, more opportunity, more possibility. I would feel upset, buy a replacement phone and move on. What would he do? Sell the phone for a couple bucks before worrying again how to make some quick cash again. I did not envy the path he took that eventually led to our brief encounter. Even with my phone, his life would continue to be much harder than mine.
And while that young man will never read this blog, nor meet me again I hope that my phone gives him some joy, helps him in some small way to get out of his current situation. However, I also want him to look back and feel regret for his petty crime, feel the need to repay that debt by performing good deeds to strangers instead of ill will. The world has too much hate and suffering already. It does not need any more.
My replacement phone should come tomorrow and I would love texts/messages/e-mails/calls/tweets welcoming me back into the addicting world of technology. Until then, the buzz and ring associated with instant communication is replaced with the sound of the rain falling against the leaves outside my window.