An addicted insider’s account of our real lives in the era of the realtime, social web.

Confession #56: I’m Looking at the Man in the iPhone

The web has spoiled the plots of hundreds of TV shows on my DVR. And now it has spoiled the novelty of the next iPhone. An Apple employee left a next generation iPhone in a bar, someone found it and sold it Gizmodo. Gizmodo published photos and videos of the upcoming gadget and the details of how the the guy named Gray Powell lost it. And the internet did what the internet does. A blog post and an article here, some status updates and a few hundred thousand Tweets there, and before you know it we’ve all got a series of published opinions on a something we’ve known about for approximately twenty seconds.

We find ourselves in an age of write, don’t think — look, annotate, regurgitate, repeat. Yet we’ve all boarded this realtime, social roller coaster without taking much time to consider the ramifications of our actions. Our behavior is somewhere way out ahead of our consideration of that behavior. In honor of Gray Powell, the man whose lost iPhone set off this firestorm, I’ll call this the internet’s Gray Area where there is seemingly nothing that can come between a man and his publish button. And in this case, any takes, positive or negative, attacking or supportive, merely add to the pile of noise beneath which Gray Powell is now buried.

And where did this perfect storm of oversharing lead us? To the relentless humiliation of one poor dude and the spoiling of an upcoming surprise.

I’m not pointing fingers here. To paraphrase the late Michael Jackson (who knew a thing or two about public ridicule), I’m starting with the man whose reflection I see in my own iPhone. I’m with the masses. Whether I think the guy who found the phone should have given it back to Apple (I do) or whether I think Gizmodo should have published the details about the upcoming phone or how it came into their possession (I don’t) is not really the point. What I’m getting at here is the urgency with which I needed to look at the iPhone prototype and then to share my one hundred forty character take on the matter.

And what was my take? I have no idea, that was hours ago.

As the news spread around the web, some complained about the coverage of Gray Powell. The folks at Gizmodo paused to respond with a Tweet: “thx for the feedback on the How Apple Lost the iPhone piece. edited to show we aren’t picking on the guy, just telling of his honest mistake.” So I guess they edited out the part that included the guy’s name and the part about him losing the iPhone and the part about them publishing a series of stories about the iPhone prototype and the guy who lost it?

On the other hand, Grey Powell now has millions of people visiting his blog and social network pages. Sure, we’re all focused on him because he made a big mistake. But we’re all focused. There are millions of habitual oversharers who would gladly trade a little humiliation to join Gray Powell in the place where so many strive to be; at the fat end of the internet’s spotlight. He’s made it to that rarified zone occupied by the likes of Tila Tequila and the woozy kid who was filmed by his dad on the way home from the dentist.

Gray Powell: Humiliated victim or the latest internet superstar? Maybe that’s the defining principle of life in the Gray Area. There’s often no difference between the two.

In the end, Apple will get the phone back with more buzz than ever and the guy who lost it will probably end up with a guest spot on a late night talk show. And the rest of us can move on to the next realtime story of the moment. By now, we probably already have.

My Head is in the Cloud

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My name is Dave Pell, internet superhero. This blog provides an addicted insider's account of what's happening to us in the era of the realtime, social web. You can read more about the site, grab the rss feed, follow me on twitter, join the Facebook page, or get email updates.