Lost / found

If you have lost your keys, USB stick or personal documents in a foreign country, you already know how painful this could be. We are often personally attached to the items we own, so it can be hard to accept that they are no longer there.

Sometimes, people with good intentions find such lost items and return them back to their owners. Plenty of stories like this exist and most of them are deeply touching. An old man returned a purse containing a lot more money than the pension he was getting. Four children found a purse and collectively searched the owner to bring it back to him. A woman who lost her personal documents found them at the nearest police station, where someone was so kind to leave them. The people of good deeds are literally everywhere. They can't do much to hide their goodness and what they are willing to do surpasses most people's expectations. This is highly inspiring for the rest of us and also raising the question why we aren't already acting in a similar way. We could also ask ourselves what could be done to spread similar thinking and acting within our own circles.

Although many people may be willing to help, they may choose not to do so if in the process they would lose too much. Finding time to return an object to the police when someone is working full-time may not be easy. Traveling a lot to see a person which has moved away after they have lost an item may also not be an option. This means that the sooner a lost object is found, the higher the chance is for it to be returned to its owner.

Very often information about the owner is completely missing or not easy to obtain. Even people working at institutions may not be able to easily identify that person unless the lost item has a name and address attached to it or unless the owner seeks the item exactly at the same place where it was brought. Otherwise the search process can take months and even then it is not guaranteed that the owner will be found. If you have lost something, you may not know who found it, and if you found something, you may not know who lost it. This is a reachability problem, because both groups don't know of each other, so they can't find a good way to connect.

Internet has the advantage that it makes all kinds of information a lot more accessible to everyone. But there seems to be no incentive to create such a small thing that informs someone where their item is. It may be also true that in a more visible world, people may not perceive that their item deserves full visibility, so they may choose not to talk about it. Then the idea for such visibility may not see enough support to be of any use.

"This is not a working business model!" was a statement I heard at a conference some years ago. It was directed at someone who mentioned the lost/found idea, but received a harsh criticism for it. I felt bad for such a response, but I still thought that there was a certain truth in it. It was rather made to help this person and all other participants like me realize the ingredients of a quality idea, which was a valuable lesson. But it also gave us hints how the dream of owning the money machine can cloud people's minds to a point that they hardly realize who they have become or that the world is much bigger than they are. The goal of a business is not only to make profits, but also to do good deeds to society to the extent possible. This is something very few businesses truly seem to understand. They are in it for the money, so any good deed away from this line of thought has to "convert". An important question is who they could convince to "sell" their humanity this way. This is one reason why we have so many car makers and other big-profit item sellers, but so few local bakeries that keep us alive each day. Doing good at a smaller scale has become unattractive. "Doing good is good business" is now used more frequently to look good publicly rather than due to a deeply held belief.

There was once an attempt to frequently inform about good deeds, effectively encouraging them, but this was then removed as far as I know. Many people seem to be more interested about which bubble bursted today, which business or country will go bankrupt, why the sales of company X declined the last quarter, which war is unfolding, the average daily number of cars stolen, telephone frauds and all the consequences these things cuombined could have on their lives. We have collectively allowed the negative to surround us and are now wondering why the positive never comes. It has become harder to wake up on a positive note and keep that feeling throughout the day while listening to the bad news.

What can we do? The problems are deeply entrenched in our nature, so there isn't a simple answer to that. Spreading the word about the positive happening around us is just a small first step. Being slightly less focused on the monetary aspect of a single, important product leaves us with time to evaluate everything we do as a whole. Who we are can never be attached to a single product, but is the accumulation of small actions and activities on many fronts over time. This is something a business plan would never be able to capture. An idea like lost/found may seem insignificant, but when many similar ideas are realized and stacked on top of each other, their meaning changes and they become much more powerful than on their own. Such businesses will win, because people won't go to them simply for any product or service they could currently get, but because of all other things that these companies do for them as part of a long-term philosophy.

Since I was touched on a personal level by the stories I heard, I decided to create something small to enhance their main message. On this simple lost/found page you can announce your losses or findings and see whether someone else has not already done the same thing for the same object, but in the opposite category. An interesting side effect is that this could lead to new contacts that wouldn't be possible otherwise. Seeing more people help each other is always something worth striving for. It would be interesting to observe to what extent a balance between the two categories would be possible. If everyone wants to announce only lost objects, but noone is willing to share what they found, the page will quickly become very one-sided and progressively less interesting. For this reason, a strong "found" category willl be beneficial to everyone, but this depends on how people would choose to act when they find something. Note that not everyone using this page will have good intentions. If you choose to use it, be prepared to ask very concrete questions that validate whether someone is telling you the truth. Although I will try to reduce the amount of spam, there may still be some left. My hope is that you will still find the page useful, eventually choosing to announce any unknown objects you might encounter.