My digital identity crises: When you loose your smartphone in London
It was 9.00 pm, at Tower Bridge in London, we have just finished a poetry-reading event on the occasion of launching a new anthology of translated Somali poetry. I decided to leave the crowd, sit alone on the bank of the river, appreciate nature and reflect on what I have heard about the civil war in one of the poems just recited. My memory travelled back home to Laascaanood in Somaliland, to the unhappy tidings there. I put my tablet and mobile phone next to me at the riverbank, and opted for putting pen to paper, to capture my sad thoughts with a succession of pen strokes. I always loved the sound of water in the rivers. I remembered Arno River in Pisa. I was struck by the domineering quietude of that strip of land. The place looked as if it was cut off from the rest of the city. The noises from the neighbouring streets as well as the gentle sounds of the flowing water at my feet became dead silent.
I remained there lost in meditation for what seemed to me a long time. I was oblivious to anything taking place in my surroundings. The weather suddenly changed, and I felt its penetrating chill and moved with my tablet to a nearby restaurant. I immediately noticed that I had mindlessly left behind something very dear to me. I quickly rushed back to where I had been, but there was no sign of it.
Alas! My telephone was gone for good, and with it my world ceased to exist for a while. At that weird moment, I was overwhelmed by a state of confusion, and deep anxiety. My credit card was registered on the phone. My Uber and Amazon services had one click payment option. My twitter account with over 16.8K followers was accessible without a password, my Facebook with over 10,000 followers and 5,000 friends, so was my instgram!…
On it, I also had a huge collection of photos for work, for pleasure, for family and memories. I had my best collection of Somali classic music and songs that used to accompany me everywhere. Some humorous political (and non political) gossips, and serious conversations with people who put their trust in me were there. Innocent but more or less clandestine secrets of modern life, that we dread to admit their existence openly perhaps because of age or social status, but which inevitably exist in everyone’s life…. intimate chats via Messenger with the beloved, that you would not like other eyes to read. Oh my God, I trusted that device. I trusted it so much.
A sense of hopelessness came over me. I felt my world invaded, my privacy violated, my intimacy infringed, yet unable to raise even a finger in defence. All means of communication with my offices in Hargeysa, Dubai, and elsewhere were totally severed. So also was my contact with the Somali Week Festival proceedings going on at the time in London. I was temporarily rendered a powerless figure in the world.
After a short mess, a race against time begins. I change all my passwords, remotely delete emails and messages stored in the cache of the device, disable the use of my credit card online, delete some ancient account I used some time ago, and I connect various social media accounts to get out of all the devices from which they are connected. It works, more or less. Then I trace my lost device. It is switched off, so without vain. I developed small script on my laptop that checks the device via GPS every three minutes. At 12.05 I heard the alert. My device comes to online for the first time and it attempts to synchronise my gmail account. No success because I changed the password in the meantime. I trace it online, and from Central London, the person moves to East, goes for a while unreachable because of the underground. Again it comes online in Whitechapel area. He or she notices that I am tracing and the phone switched off. This time for good. I give up and buy a new phone.
24 hours later, after a great struggle, my identity was restored in the digital era. I was issued with a new phone, got back my social media accounts, gained access to my credit cards, and finally felt hugely relieved. Of course, there had sadly been some really valuable things that could not be retrieved.
Inside the cover of the phone, I had attached with scotch my two Somaliland SIM cards (one TELESOM and one SOMTEL, both connected to my mobile payment options, Zaad and E-Dahab services), my Ethiopian, Kenyan, Ugandan and Italian SIM cards.
On the outside cover, I had a passport-size photo of my only son, Mohamed Amin. Needless to explain how much that photo has meant to me, I remembered at that unfortunate incident that I had not called him for a couple of days which rarely happened. So, I was suddenly seized by my paternal urge of duty to ring him up and recount with him pleasurable moments we have enjoyed together – his favourite books, the two volumes missing from his collection of the trilogy written by Palaccio, and ‘of course’, as he says, the Juventus soccers t-shirt he adored so much and admirably called “maglia originale di Cristiano Rolando e Paolo Dybala”, items that might apparently seem to be simple ones but really speaking were so close and precious to our hearts and minds. I can clearly recall his last cordially commanding message ringing in my ear, “You better not come back, without them”. Leaving this dreary episode here, I am dashing off to the supermarket to procure the articles my gorgeous lovely Mohamed Amin had ordered.
Jama Musse Jama
London, 25 October, 2018