the Unending Journey of the Wandering Author

A chronicle of the unending journey of the Wandering Author through life, with notes and observations made along the way. My readers should be aware I will not censor comments that disagree with me, but I do refuse to display comment spam or pointless, obscene rants. Humans may contact me at thewanderingauthor at yahoo dot com - I'll reply as I am able.

Location: New England, United States

I have always known I was meant to write, even when I was too young to know the word 'author'. When I learned that books were printed, I developed an interest in that as well. And I have always been a wanderer, at least in my mind. It's not the worst trait in an author. For more, read my writing; every author illuminates their heart and soul on the pages they write upon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Is This the Real Story Behind the "Stolen Sidekick"?

Ever since I first stumbled across the story of the "stolen Sidekick", several points bothered me. I waited for someone else to mention them, but so far no one else seems to have considered things that seem obvious to me. This episode garnered so much public attention I am reluctant to allow the discussion to end without voicing my thoughts. This is a lengthy post; my reasoning requires some explanation. I ask only that you read every word before forming an opinion.

On some points, I agree with Evan, the man who wanted his friend's cell phone back. When I find lost property, I attempt to return it to its owner. In the interests of honesty, there were occasions as a boy when I found battered tools lying in the middle of the road, and concluded looking for the owner was pointless. But if I found a valuable item someone might actually want back, I'd try to return it. And if someone asked for their old screwdriver, I'd have given that back, too. I agree, without reservation, this is the right thing to do. The fact that the girl who had the phone wouldn't return it, however, does not necessarily make what Evan did in revenge right.

His response seems disproportionate to the crime. What was at stake? One expensive toy, a cell phone with features only the rich and spoiled could claim with a straight face are necessities (cell phones and e-mail may be necessities, but a blurry camera and all the bells and whistles on a Sidekick?) . An item worth so little to her his friend Ivanna wasn't even careful not to lose it; something she could afford to replace right away. Now, just because someone has money does not make it right to keep what should be theirs. But it does permit them to be more restrained in their efforts to get it back. What a man might understandably do to save his livelihood, is much harder to justify over something he can afford to lose.

What Evan did may have been legal, but he kept claiming it was about what is right, so I won't consider what he was legally allowed to do, but what was right for him to do. It was reasonable and right for him to make a certain effort to recover his friend's phone. But how far did he actually go? In effect, he ruined a young girl's life, and possibly her family's and her baby's as well. This may seem like a strong statement, but consider all the ramifications of what he did.

Through his efforts, her full name, her picture, her age to within roughly six months, her address, and various details of her family and her life all became public knowledge. Yes, he has removed some of those details now, but it is too late. Everyone saw them, they were cached by Google and various other services; there is no way Evan or Sasha or anyone else can say just who may have printed them out, or saved them on their own hard drives. There is no way those details will ever be private again.

As a professional genealogist, I know enough about what a person can learn given certain information that I can say with confidence, Evan has made Sasha an easy target for any identity thief or stalker who singles her out as their victim. Yes, she was foolish, and I doubt even now she understands just how vulnerable Evan has made her. What's more, he has drawn the attention of many thousands of visitors to his site, and made them aware of her; any potential stalker seeking a new obsession had more than enough opportunity to take notice.

As well as endangering her, Evan has humiliated her so thoroughly, and so publicly, this episode is likely to haunt her the rest of her life. Ten years from now, she may apply for a job and be turned down because someone remembers who she is. And he has stirred up hostile feeling towards her among thousands of strangers. More than one person drove by to harass her. It is true he asked readers not to do this, but unless he is much more stupid than he seems, he must have understood that was no guarantee everyone would listen. The only certain thing about his statement is that it protects him against charges of inciting violence.

Only time will tell just how much damage he has actually done to her, her family, and her baby. Will a stalker fixate on her, pursue her and, some day, murder her? Only time will tell. Will her humiliation overshadow her life to the point that, in a year or two, she commits suicide? Only time will tell. As she gradually realises how much he has scarred her life, will she sink into alcoholism or drug abuse in response? Only time will tell. Under the stress of these events, has she already abused her baby? Even the passage of time will probably not reveal that.

Two wrongs do not make a right. No matter how many laws are on his side, Evan had no right to exact such a heavy price for a few hundred dollars worth of techno-toy. Personally, even if Sasha is too uneducated to understand this, I don't think any amount of money would be enough to compensate her for what has been done to her. In fact, her very ignorance, which rendered her effectively defenseless against Evan's publicity onslaught, just makes the whole thing worse. The moment it became obvious she couldn't understand how much harm she was doing herself, it should also have been obvious it was time to stop kicking her around.

In other, minor, ways, Evan's account disturbed me. His comments reveal him to be a hypocrite. He rails against those who dig up personal details of his life, and criticise him for them, then he makes remarks about Sasha's ignorance, the fact she already has a baby, and other aspects of her life that have nothing to do with the cell phone this is supposedly about. In other words, he is free to criticise her personal life, but no one has the right to discuss his, or Ivanna's, personal life. Either it is only about the cell phone, or it isn't. If he can drag other aspects of Sahsa's life into the discussion, his critics have an equal right to examine his life, but he self-righteously rejects that.

I am not faulting his complaints about her racism. No matter what the situation, racism is unjustified. It is the single one of Sasha's traits that makes me least inclined to feel sympathy towards her. Yet she is clearly young and ignorant, and if we are honest, all of us have at least a few crumbs of racism inside us, even if we battle them. That is the legacy of a culture soaked in hate. It isn't enough to justify her remarks, but it is enough to suggest education, and mercy, might be a better answer than playing the role her bigotry expects of him.

What bothers me most about this incident, though, is the fact that there was actually a motive for all the publicity, one no one else seems to have considered. It is impossible to be sure if the whole thing was calculated in advance or not, but it is equally impossible to deny there was at least a motive. It is not a hidden motive, it leapt out at me as I was reading Evan's own words, posted on his own site.

Once thousands of people were reading his web page, and feeling sympathetic, Evan reveals an interesting tidbit. [Ivanna] "used that Sidekick to send email to the consulates in Russia where her only sister was trying to get a visa to come to the wedding (she has been denied twice for no reason)". He explains "I know that you can view the emails online, but that's only if you register with T-Mobile online for that. And you can only register it, when they send an email to your phone."

Evan can stir up the whole world against a young girl, but he can't arrange for T-Mobile to give his friend access without her phone? This type of thing must come up sometimes; if T-Mobile doesn't have a procedure in place to help people in Ivanna's position, why didn't he go after them publicly? It may be wrong to ruin an individual's life this way, but I don't dispute any individual's right to shame a huge corporation that treats them badly. So, if T-Mobile wouldn't work something out for Ivanna as soon as the situation was explained to them, why didn't Evan complain publicly about them?

Ignoring this possibility, Evan claims "Because of this girl's failure to return the phone, my friend's sister was DENIED a visa to come to the wedding (she was supposed to be the maid of honor)". But he already said she was denied twice for "no reason" (it would be interesting to see the embassy paperwork on that). Then he goes on to casually mention, "If you want to help my friend with getting her sister to get a visa, please call and email American embassy in Yekaterinburg, Russia".

So, all this publicity did serve another purpose besides recovering the phone. If enough people contacted the embassy, perhaps they'd change their minds, and issue a visa to a woman who had already been turned down twice. In light of those earlier denials, Evan's claim everyone's help is only needed because Sasha didn't return the phone in time seems like a diversion from the real issue. Consider that, if Evan and Ivanna had simply put up a web site asking for people to contact the embassy requesting Ivanna's sister be granted a visa, few people would have cared. It wouldn't have attracted half the notice the "saga of the stolen Sidekick" did.

Now, I don't know any of the people involved in this, and I don't have any facts beyond the information Evan put on his web site. How much of that is reliable, I can only guess by analysing what he said, and how well it holds together. So I can't be sure Evan and Ivanna got together and planned a clever ‘viral marketing' stunt to persuade thousands of people to put pressure on the embassy to let Ivanna's sister into the United States. But I do wonder. It seems awfully convenient, the way as soon as there was a large enough audience the little matter of something else they could do to help just happened to come up; finally, poor Ivanna let him explain.

When I went back to look up the exact quotes as I wrote this, I found Evan had made the original site harder to access, and included comments about it being too long for most people to take the time to read. Why? I don't know for sure, but his ‘summary' conveniently omits a few details. "Ivanna's wedding was getting closer and closer and since she had not been able to contact the embassy in time, her sister's visa was denied. I tried a last minute gamble and requested that from readers who wanted to help, to please email the embassy for us."

He doesn't mention her sister's visa was denied twice before. As long as the whole thing is Sasha's fault, he and Ivanna had no motive for planning a viral marketing campaign to secure Ivanna's sister a visa. His convenient gloss over the facts only makes me wonder more; was Sasha set up as a pawn in a game whose real goal was drumming up enough publicity to enlist hordes of people to put pressure on the American embassy to grant a visa to someone they had turned down twice before? However petty their reason for turning her down, it seems obvious if the embassy did so twice before they probably would have done so a third time in the absence of a strong reason to do otherwise.

There was clearly a motive. Was there intent as well? Only Evan and Ivanna can answer that, and of course if they planned all this they aren't likely to admit it. It originally seemed I should only name Evan, since I know so little about Ivanna. But if this was planned in advance, Ivanna had to either discard her phone where it was likely to be picked up by a suitable pawn, or hand it over to Evan so he could do that for her.

Whether or not this was a cold-blooded viral marketing scheme, I still think mercy would have been the wiser choice. Evan claimed he was doing this to teach people like Sasha to do the right thing. But I suspect what other girls like Sasha really learned is not what Evan says he wanted them to. They probably do understand, now, it isn't safe to keep something like a Sidekick in case the owner wants it back. But, after seeing the callous way one young girl's life was ruined, they might just decide to stomp on it or toss it into a river rather than give it back to someone who could prove just as heartless. Somehow, I don't think that's an improvement.

diigo it


Blogger Sanscosm said...

I don't think it was a planned cold blooded marketing scheme.
Seems like an effective waste of time.
Since their was no assurance that the site would take off like it did.

I think their original intent was to publicly demean Sasha to the point where she would return the sidekick.

Every thing else that followed was just them taking advantage of the situation to do what they felt was "right".

I do agree however that their means to an end are a bit harsh when subjected upon an indiviual person.

August 01, 2006 1:55 PM  
Blogger The Wandering Author said...

I hope I made it clear that I don't know this was a cold-blooded viral marketing scheme. That is only one possible interpretation of Evan's comments.

But, there is never any assurance a viral marketing campaign will work. What did they have to lose if the site didn't take off? One cell phone they could easily replace, and a small amount of time. That might not have seemed much to risk for a chance to get the sister a visa to visit the US.

Whatever their motive actually was, it would have been a waste of time if the web site didn't take off. And it seems to me it is so difficult to get any site to attract so much notice so quickly that the very fact it did succeed suggests Evan has some understanding of the techniques needed in viral marketing.

So I still believe my alternate interpretation of what was behind their actions is a plausible one. But what really concerns me is the fact that the issues I raised were not even noticed or discussed, despite all the publicity, for nearly two months.

August 03, 2006 3:37 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Hi, this is Eric from freethinkers. It's fine that you are upset with me because I didn't put a lot of "thought" into the whole side-kick fiasco. Truth is, I simply think that justice prevailed. I'm tired of sympathizing with ignorance. We need to attack ignorance. We need to show that it's not okay to be stupid and depraved... well, maybe it's okay to sometimes be depraved (lol) but it's not okay to be WILLFULLY ignorant. It is not COOL to be stupid.

Even if Evan's "reasons" weren't 100% righteous I believe it's the lesser of two evils. She is proof that ignorance and simple thievery does not pay...

August 07, 2006 12:32 AM  
Blogger The Wandering Author said...

I am not in favour of ignorance. However, which example of ignorance is most harmful; that of a teenage girl who appropriated a lost cell phone, or that of countless journalists and commentators who never even thought about the story they covered?

Any reaction that keeps you from thinking about a story produces ignorance. Every time a story is put before the public without some thought being put into it, the person responsible for that story encourages ignorance. Personally, I am much less worried about teenage girls who scoop up lost items and keep them than I am about journalists whose sloppy coverage contributes to the spread of sloppy thinking.

August 07, 2006 2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anthony said...

Related to Pardon The Interrution...

Maybe I am living a sheltered life. Or maybe I'm just too busy to keep up with things. I have absolutely no idea what this post relates to.

Given that you asked what people like, I would think that if someone visits here and you want to provide critical analysis of something it might help to provide some reference - a link? - so the reader can review what it is that's being discussed.

As to the comment Eric wrote, again having no idea what specifically is being discussed, I am able to understand and agree with the sentiments he is sharing.

It's running through my mind whether commenting is what you wanted when you wrote the Pardon The Interruption post. You may have just wanted a comment there. I saw from the first one I wrote that nothing is posted without your approval so I suppose proceeding will not be a problem.

I do hope in one way or another this is helpful to you. I would certainly welcome you cominng for a look and sharing your insights.

August 20, 2006 1:53 PM  
Blogger The Wandering Author said...

Anthony, thanks for your comments. I put a link to you in my sidebar. You did point out one thing I hadn't considered; I do link to the story I am discussing, but the link is perhaps too far down in my post. I will put in another link at the top. Thanks.

August 21, 2006 2:47 PM  

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