In the summer of 2013, a New York yuppie lost her iPhone in the Hamptons. A few months later, she got an alert saying that her phone had been turned on in Yemen, and then candid pictures of a Yemeni family started filling her iCloud account. The phone was soon updated under the name of its new owner, a teenager boy named Yacoub. In this essay for The Atlantic, Will McGrath writes about the saga of his friend’s lost phone, guns, shared humanity, and how the photos provided his friend with a strange keyhole into another world:
Flipping through these pictures is like watching Yacoub muddle through adolescence in time-lapse. He is deep into the age of identity-building, trying to document and establish his place in the world. He travels through the countryside taking landscape shots: stunning mountains with verdant terraced fields, clusters of houses that stair-step down toward a valley floor. Now he is at a construction site looking supercool behind the wheel of a forklift.
Another picture has him posing before a shuttered storefront with an AK-47 (the safety is on and the gun’s stock is folded under so he can’t touch the trigger). In late August Yacoub writes the Shahada—the standard Muslim declaration of faith—in the phone’s Notes app, where Maura discovers it while making her IKEA shopping list. There is no god but God, and Mohammed is the messenger of God. He writes cheesy love poetry into the Notes app (How does the heart forget you, the taste of sugar that is lost?), he tries to visit Sex.com, he takes selfies with qat wadded in his cheek, he is every teenager in the history of teenagers.