Film student Anthony van der Meer from Amsterdam was having lunch one day when his phone was stolen; he never recovered the phone, but was left with tons of questions about the incident. He claims that the person who stole his phone must have been experienced because of how quickly the phone went offline and was untraceable once it left his possession. In response to a question on Reddit, van der Meer said,
“I had a lot of personal information on the iPhone. When I lost it, I suddenly realized how much we all depend on our smartphones. It isn’t just a device we only communicate with. It’s far more intimate than that. I think it is one of the most intimate devices a person can use (we take it everywhere we go, communicate with our loved ones and affairs with it, make (nude)pictures etc.) Having access to all that information could tell a lot about a person, even the things he or she would never share with other people. That kind of creeps me out. By making the film I wanted to create awareness of that.”
He decided to turn this experience into a project by staging a phone theft and recording the whereabouts, conversations, and even videos of the person this new stolen phone ended up with. To do this, he downloaded an app called Cerberus, which allows the recording of audio or video anytime the phone is connected to the Internet. In addition to recording, it also provides information on locations and call records. Van der Meer disguised the app by contacting the creator and making the app both invisible and invincible, meaning the app was impossible to delete even if it was reset.
His 20 minute documentary exposes the very real happenings of his phone’s captor, which leads to unexpected feelings of empathy and pseudo-understanding of the person who stole and kept his phone. Van der Meer expresses concern for the man with his phone, as he notes that he spends his days in alleyways and coffee shops and his nights in homeless shelters. When van der Meer notices that the man constantly buys call credits because van der Meer uses up his data by recording him, he feels guilty and even secretly buys credits for the man.
It all comes to a halt when van der Meer becomes concerned after the phone goes offline for a day and decides to track the last location it was in. He visits the location and gets a surprising glimpse of the man. He says this of the moment he made eye contact with him:
“Suddenly I had made eye contact with the thief. In front of me, was a completely different person than I imagined. Nothing was left of the sad, kind man I thought I knew. I realised that the bond I thought I had built with him was merely one sided. The aggressive attitude and smell of hash that surrounded him, made it clear to me; I don’t know this man in front of me at all.”
Shortly after this encounter, the phone goes dead again, and van der Meer has said that when the phone connects to the Internet again he plans to continue the story. The documentary is unconventional and interesting in its explorations and revelations about what it means to get to know someone purely through their phone activity. Its original content makes it a must-see for anyone curious about life after a phone is stolen.
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