Greek philosopher Aristotle may have been about half right when he observed that we are deeply flawed beings.
We lose things and we steal things and we snoop when we think no one’s looking and we don’t take precautions and then we go to Vegas, where it all gets amplified.
Smartphones are the object often lost by visitors to Las Vegas, according to research by the computer data firm Mozy released Thursday. This is not surprising, given the level of distraction our town offers the 40 million people who visit every year.
And yet, if any of the 5 million convention attendees who come to town annually lose their phones, it’s almost certain they will get them back.
“Now that there are so many smartphones out there, we do make an effort,” said Ray Suppe, director of security for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
He says the LVCVA returns something like 98 percent of all the smartphones its lost-and-found department comes across at the convention center. That adds up to hundreds per year, he said. As many as 50 in a single weekend, if there’s a big tech show in town.
They’ve got to do a little snooping, of course. Pull up the last number called. Maybe send a text or an email. Usually, the owner is still on the property, or at least in town.
In the rare case that they can’t track down the owner in 30 days, they sell the phone with old office furniture and other surplus items.
But what the LVCVA doesn’t do is scour the town for lost phones. They’re not sweeping casino floors or searching the gutters down on Fremont Street, listening for Twitter alerts.
Nope. If you lose your phone in the wild, you’re pretty much going to have to depend on the kindness of strangers to get it back.
And such kindness does, in fact, exist, despite Aristotle’s warning that freedom meant there would be no check on the “mean element” present in every human being.
For evidence, let’s turn to Scott Wright, who conducted a study last year on the limits of human kindness.
Wright is a security consultant whose company, Security Perspectives, worked with computer security software company Symantec on a project last year.
Wright “lost” 50 cellphones in cities across North America and tracked what happened to them.
The results were either sickening or endearing or both:
■ 96 percent of the people who found the phones tried to get into them.
■ 89 percent tried to skim for personal information.
■ 72 percent tried to dig into an app labeled “personal photos.”
■ 60 percent tried to spy on social networking accounts.
■ 50 percent returned the phones.
Exactly half did the right thing, even if they started out doing the wrong thing.
That surprised Wright, who said he thought the return rate would be lower.
When he did a similar experiment in 2008 with portable USB drives, only a quarter of the people who found them tried to return them.
So, either his theory is right and people felt guilty about not returning an expensive smartphone, or people are just nicer than they were four years earlier.
Contact reporter Richard Lake at email@example.com or 702-383-0307.