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How To Catch a Murderer

Can you remember where you were for 21 minutes, six weeks ago? Even if you don't, the Internet will never let you forget.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - 15:56

This week, I have been obsessed with being able to account for a random 21-minute window of my time.

This is thanks to what is the best podcast in the world. It's called Serial, and is a real-live whodunnit about the murder of an American high school girl, Hae Min Lee. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, then also a senior in high school, was convicted of her murder and put away for life. Of course, there is serious doubt about whether Adnan really did it, and this podcast re-examines the case in a gripping week-by-week exploration of botched trials, treachery and complex motivations. 

Here's the kicker, though: Hae Min Lee was killed 15 years ago - one snowy day on Jan 13, 1999. And Adnan has been in prison - rightfully or wrongfully - since then.

Back in 1999, the entire case turned on where all the suspects or witnesses were for a 21-minute span of time on Jan 13, when police say that Hae Min Lee had been killed.

This was in the pre-Facebook, pre-Foursquare days of blue jeans that came up to above your bellybutton, so trying to remember, much less prove, where you were in the 90s was a fool's errand. In the podcast, Adnan's memory proves so ridiculously patchy that you wish you could reach into the maximum security prison where he is kept, and shake him.

Ultimately, this inability to recall or show where he was or what he was doing was to his obvious detriment. "My case lived and died in those 21 minutes," he tells the podcast's presenter.

This made me think. If I were ever accused of a murder today, I would like to think that I'd have alibis all over the place. Thanks to the Internet that we all parade our lives on, I would be able to account for my 21 minutes like so:

  1. Hate-read rival's Twitter page. Passive-aggressively 'favourite' one of her Tweets, just so she knows am unthreatened enough by her number of followers to add to her 'favourite' count.
    Timestamp: 3:15pm
     
  2. Get a phonecall from a Gumtree user who sees my moving-out sale listing on the site. Get into a near-argument* with the caller after I tell him I have no sofas for sale, and he says, "Oh, well then you can't be moving out if you're not selling your sofa. You're just having a normal sale." Contemplate explaining that I have no sofa because one does all one's living in one's bedroom like a self-respecting 20-something, but am already bored of the conversation, like a self-respecting 20-something.
    Timestamp: 3.20pm
     
  3. Take a photo of socks that am wearing today, upload onto Instagram. #sockoftheday #sotd #looksocks #havefinallyrunoutofbodypartstophotograph #soblessed
    Timestamp: 3.26pm
     
  4. Re-post Buzzfeed item on Facebook profile with suitably witty status update message. Keep obsessively checking for number of 'likes' (5 in 3 minutes already!). Take note that close friend has just posted something herself, and obviously seen my own post, but not liked it. Decide not to like her post in return.
    Timestamp: 3.30pm
     
  5. Get a bunch of WhatsApp messages and open them without intending to respond any time today. Immediately curse self after realising that WhatsApp now has those accursed blue ticks that tell others when exactly one has read a message. Attempt to Google how to turn off the function, but get distracted by a GIF.

    Like this:


    Get several more WhatsApp messages, asking why am not replying because stupid blue ticks clearly show I have read said messages. Turn off phone and go back to admiring socks.
    Timestamp: 3.40pm

This is not to trivialise what is a well-produced show and the gravity of Adnan Syed's situation, of course. Serial is now in its 7th episode in a possible set of 12, and apparently, even the producers don't know how it will turn out. Until then, I recommend that you tune in, listen raptly and post selfies of your innocent personage every 15 minutes. You know, just in case.

*This actually happened.