If there’s one thing we all know it’s that you can’t force a viral video, however that rarely stops us from trying. As a publicist, I focus on attention: creating it, breeding it, stopping it, and always, always trying to control it. Of course this is an impossibility when the very result I wish for is dependent on people, distracted people not looking to further divide their attention to help me out.
But as I said, this never stops me from trying to gain as much attention as possible. The effect is fleeting, vaporous by nature, yet there are times when all that greets me is silence, biting quiet. You see, the opposite of attention is not inattention it’s indifference. You can work with love, anger, frustration, caring, but you can’t do much with, “Eh.”
As an unemployed publicist, volunteering my time to nonprofits in an effort to keep busy, make a difference, and be noticed, I seek out attention every day. My latest attempt found me holding an iPhone over my dog’s shoulder as I tried to entice him to sniff at a Nexus on the ground in our local park. Milo did not grasp his role in something larger as he sniffed the mulch, but before the day was out his good deeds would be plastered across the internet. That was the dream, conceived in a moment and built in a morning. Not all dreams come to fruition but I get ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
* * *
Milo was romping around the small park, never straying from the area covered in wood chips. The groundskeeper had only removed the web of yellow police tape from the grassy lawn a few days ago, lifting the ban on four-legged fun from the soggy clay earth. A few hot days might mean an early spring, wringing the winter damp from beneath our feet.
He followed closely behind me, his tail keeping time as he sniffed the ground. A good stick was hard to find and we spent a few minutes searching for a length of branch that was not too chewed up by previous visitors. As I began looking to the bushes where sticks were thrown and never retrieved I saw a black rectangle laying on the ground where it didn’t belong. It’s smooth screen suggested that it had been misplaced recently, after the morning dew had evaporated and before a rambunctious dog had discovered it either with its feet or teeth.
I picked it up, feeling its width across my palm, it was bigger than an iPhone, smaller than a Nook. I looked around for someone in search of their phone, calling out for it like so many dog owners distracted by conversations.
No one was in sight. I swept its screen hoping for a signal, clicking buttons along its side. Its screen illuminated. It was locked, not allowing me to access any information that could point me to its owner. Generic bubbles, probably a native installation, slowly spread across the glass. It was nameless.
My only option was an emergency call. I tried my own phone number first, hoping that the phone might consider this situation an emergency. #Fail.
I’ve never been shy about dialing 911. It’s a reflex when you stumble across car accidents or people in need of medical attention. I even called once as a teen just to settle an argument with my parents. It was before Google so our local police department seemed like the best option at the time to answer a question of law – available 24 hours a day and only three button clicks away.
So I dialed it, lapsing into my usual disclaimer.
“I’m sorry to bother you but this is not an emergency,” I said and then quickly before the operator could postpone my request, “I found a phone and I was wondering if you could tell me the number that I am calling from.”
She gave me the phone number and wished me luck. I think those 911 operators enjoy a good deed after hours of mayhem-induced calls.
I entered the number in my phone and pressed the green phone icon. It rang. After a few rings the larger phone vibrated in my hand. I waited for the answering message, hoping for a name, anything, a clue that would lead to another clue that would lead to a person.
A mechanical voice answered, dictating the number that I had reached. Nothing personal, just the cell service recording.
* * *
I thought of a few options on the way home and was now typing the phone number into my Google search bar. I pressed enter hoping for a name and instead received lists of numbers. As a reporter I had “found” people online dozens of times, maybe hundreds, so I knew this was only a first attempt, not nearly the end of the road. I tried variations on the number, checking the area code.
Over the next few minutes I indulged in a fool’s errand and I knew it. Reverse directories. They promise free information but quickly request trial fees, enticing you with headlines of found names and addresses.
I clicked off the phone’s case, hoping for any details, maybe a slip of paper or an etching that began with “If found please return…” All I saw was the Nexus logo on the phone’s back. I had never held one before and as I contemplated next steps I also allowed my mind to consider if I should trade in my phone.
I looked at its broad screen and noticed the carrier information, AT&T. Back to the computer, searching for customer service and placing the call. It did not go as I desired.
“But I just want to return the phone. I don’t need to know who it belongs to. You must have their information on your screen. Can you call a secondary number or email them with my information so I can return it?”
“Absolutely not sir,” the mid-western accent responded. “We cannot send any information to that person. What if we did that and you decided to kill him.”
That seemed pretty far-fetched, especially since I was trying to return a phone. But I guess AT&T operators had seen it all, the grisly truth behind information sharing that inevitably led to the vicious killing of their customers.
“Is there an AT&T store near you?”
“Probably. It’s San Francisco.”
I thanked the operator for his “assistance” and hung up. There was one more shot and I held a bit of hope in lessons from my small town childhood. Sometimes these lessons serve me better than my time as an investigative reporter. They were basic but that’s why they worked. Always smile when you need something. Have empathy for those who use actual timecards. Go local when corporate fails.
That last one produced more leads than I can count, so I dialed up the local AT&T store in Cincinnati.
“I’m terribly sorry to bother you, but I found a phone in a park today. I was able to get the phone’s number from 911 by placing an emergency call and it has a Cincinnati area code. I’m all the way out in San Francisco and I was worried that one of your customers may have dropped it while on vacation. Is there any way that I can give you the number and you could help put us in touch so I can return it? I’m sure they’re worried sick about their phone.”
“Well sure sir. Let me see what I can do,” the voice said. “I just need to check that file. I’ll be right back if you can hold on.”
A minute passed and the voice returned.
“I have a few telephone numbers listed here. What’s your name? Your phone number?”
I hung up hoping for a call any moment, but the minutes passed and it didn’t come.
I had some errands to do, being a Saturday and all, so I hopped in my car, perching the Nexus on my dashboard alongside my phone. They were angled just right so that I could grab either quickly if they rang.
* * *
I returned home an hour later with the phone still in my possession but also with an idea.
Milo always wants to go for a walk, especially when it is not part of his routine. A late morning walk meets all of those crucial criteria so I slid on his collar, harness, and leash and headed back to the park.
We returned to the scene of the discovered phone, my plan fully formed. I placed the phone back on the ground, slightly to the left for better lighting. I called Milo over, pointing at the misplaced technology.
“What is that? What is it?” I said in my most excited voice possible.
He kept sniffing the tree it was next to, probably covered in evaporated piss.
“No. Milo, what’s that?” pointing at the phone. He sniffed it, success.
Now I knew it could be done so I sent him away a few feet, held up the iPhone, and clicked open the Vine app. I called Milo over and quickly recorded his bouncy steps. I asked him to sniff the phone once more and recorded it before tucking the phone into his collar and grabbing more of footage on the way home.
It was ok but it needed something. Back home I tried to get him to jump into the desk chair but he wasn’t going for it. I picked him up and placed him there. Just a half second shot at the computer. Make sure the Twitter log-in screen is open.
The keyboard was unplugged from several attempts of having him “type” on the floor where he’s more comfortable. It’s back on the desk and like the keyboard playing cat, I’m typing away with his paws. A short message from Milo and that’s it.
The excitement swelled inside me. Could I have just made the most viral video ever? I posted it to Twitter. Could we find the owner through social media? How many stories were picked up because they played out on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.?
— BrianAdamsPR (@BrianAdamsPR) March 2, 2013
My inner-publicist, dormant from the West Coast relocation awoke and began making plans. I sent out links to the local press and online carriers of odd news. It was a request to help Milo find the phone’s owner. A sure thing for a brief, a blurb on the home page, a quick push at the end of the local news broadcast. I knew it was a big “no no” to push your own video but I didn’t have time for it to be discovered and shared online. That’s when I got the call. The Nexus was vibrating. I answered it too late, fumbling with the unfamiliar icons. It rang again and I finally was able to answer. It was him, the owner. My first thought was, “Damn, now if the press calls to interview Milo we will have already returned the phone. They’ll miss the hook, the request for assistance from the dog, the opposite of helping an owner find their missing canine. Why couldn’t he call later?” My original attempt to just complete a simple good deed took over. I agreed to meet him back at the park in a few minutes. I would hate to have lost my phone, imagining all of the emails and calls I would miss in that time apart, maybe even a job offer. Who knows, maybe this guy was some head of a startup and in need of someone with my skills.
* * *
The phone was tucked back into Milo’s collar. I tapped the screen and Vine recorded a second. This was the resolution to the story, the closure that would complete the follow up video soon to reach around the world. How would our lives would change in the next few hours? Maybe a new job would come of it. As we neared the park I could see the young man through the fence posts. His eyes were glazed, probably hung-over from Friday night. Did he lose the phone then, jumping into bushes? Any thoughts of returning a phone to a thankful entrepreneur seeking a communications director quickly evaporated like the gallons of dog piss in this park. “Hey, I’m Brian.” “Eh, hey.” He eyed Milo. You could see the wheels turning, gears slipping and catching then slipping again. I bet the sofa that he slept on was still warm. “We found your phone.” I handed it back to him and blurted out my request. “Do you mind if Milo hands you back your phone actually and I record it?” He may not be my golden ticket but I wasn’t giving up on our project. The gears completely disconnected at this point. I wondered what language he thought I was speaking because he didn’t take any of that in. “Huh?” “You see I made a video and posted it on Twitter hoping to find you, the owner. This would help me complete the story.” Drawing on years of photo requests at the animal hospital I used to work at I put in the disclaimer. “I don’t need to see your face, just your hand.” “Eh, ok.”
* * *
A few minutes later, and a few seconds of recording richer, and I was back at my computer. No emails from the press. My blog post from earlier in the morning had 2 views. 2 views? I posted the second video to Vine later in the day, holding out hope for a weekend call from a reporter, trolling through links in search of the perfect, cute video. I slumped in my chair and stared at the screen. They were out there, promoting links to videos, sharing them on Reddit, changing lives if only for a few minutes. They found their viral content and they didn’t need my help today. Milo and I will sit and wait, like good boys.
— BrianAdamsPR (@BrianAdamsPR) March 2, 2013