Afterthoughts: Psychological Warfare

What goes through your head when your smartphone disappears.

I lost my phone recently. Like an idiot, I don’t use a password to unlock my phone. It’s always with me, so that extra security step seems like a waste of time. Some studies say people check their phones around 150 times a day, so even if it only takes 2 seconds to unlock it, that’s 5 minutes wasted every single day. Do you know how many Instagram posts I can look at in 5 minutes? How many articles I can read? How many tweets? And every day that my phone doesn’t get stolen is another 5 minutes lost to an inconvenient and unnecessary precaution.

  Phone password



The only times I considered adding a password were when I would leave a concert and find that my phone had unlocked itself in my pocket and changed a bunch of settings I didn’t even know I had. This happened multiple times, but still I resisted. I never even bothered to download a find-my-phone app because I always have my phone with me. Safety, shmafety.


And then it happened. On the ride home from a night out in Waikīkī with my friends, I realized it was no longer in my pocket. We asked our infinitely patient driver to go back to the bar and wait while we checked with security, the bartenders and even the DJ, but it had vanished.


The next morning, I posted a depressing Facebook status about it, asking friends to message me if they needed me. Then I started thinking of everything on my phone. My contacts were easily replaceable—I’m connected to everyone I know on at least two social media platforms. Even though I don’t automatically sync up to a cloud (because I’m more paranoid about getting hacked than losing my phone), I regularly download all my photos onto my computer since my phone doesn’t have much storage space.


It wasn’t the fear that someone was going to steal my information or charge a bunch of stuff to all my accounts that I (stupidly) stay logged into—again, I could call my bank and put a hold on any activity, and who would bother trying to steal my identity? The most valuable thing I own is a dented 2005 Corolla with mismatched mirrors and a broken CD player. No, I wasn’t worried.


But then it got personal: my memos, my emails, my texts—nothing really incriminating or scandalous or embarrassing, but private nonetheless. I figured there are three types of people who could’ve found it: those who would immediately turn it in, those who would keep or sell it, and those who would trash it when they realized it was a 4-year-old Samsung Galaxy S5 that dies when the battery hits 30 percent. No one would use it as a social experiment or wage warfare.


Oh, but they could.


They could read my messages, find out who my exes are and tell them I want them back. They could group-text rumors to my friends. They could post stuff on my Instagram story, which disappears after 24 hours, and I’d never know. They could prank call my family. They could Google how to make bombs or crack cocaine and bring the FBI to my doorstep. They could extort me.


My heart spiraled into my stomach as my imagination ran wild with nefarious possibilities. And then I checked my email. Our driver had found my phone in the Lyft, underneath the seat, and would return it to me later that evening. Crisis averted. As soon as he dropped it off (at no charge! What an angel), I plugged it in and opened my security settings. I finally gave in and set up a four-digit passcode.


Not a password, though. That’s too long.