Maybe this is dumb for an employee of an ad-supported website to say, but nobody ever looks at ads on the Web, right? Wrong. I thought I’d been trained to scrupulously avoid eye contact with anything commercial online. But today an image of a white square attached to a keychain in the upper right-hand corner of Slate knocked me off course, and, maybe for the first time ever, I knowingly clicked on an ad.
I was brought to the for Kickstarter-esque website for Tile, which started with the goal of raising $20,000 to fund its invention and so far has attracted nearly $2.5 million. (This funding round ends Tuesday night.) Why is Tile more than 12,000 percent backed? Because as anyone who’s ever lost their keys—i.e., everybody—knows, losing something is the most tragic of nontragedies, an immediate and total upturning of your plans (and your couch cushions), more vexing than even political or religious arguments, because when you misplace something, you have no one to blame but yourself. And where is that damn thing?
Like Button TrackR, Tile is the newest droplet in a wave of tracking devices aiming to solve this first-rate First World problem. Loop the little white square around your keychain, and your iPhone—sorry, no Android support yet—will tell you where your keys are. Slip it in your wallet, and skip canceling all your credit cards. Tile your floor with Tiles, and never lose track of your house again.
Your Tiled belongings won’t show up on a map on your phone—this isn’t a GPS tracker. Instead, you and your lost item play a kind of Marco Polo, with your iPhone telling you you’re getting hotter or colder and the Tile ringing. The device’s range is just a couple hundred feet, but what it lacks in global tracking it makes up for with community features. It’s not just the Tile’s funding that’s crowdsourced, but its functionality, too. If you mark something as lost, any other phone with the Tile app that gets near it will automatically beam you your item’s location. As somebody who had three bikes stolen in college, the first thing I’m gonna do after I get my Tile is go back in time, glue it to my bike, track it to a dark alley, and get my butt kicked.
Your plans with “the world’s largest lost and found” may be different. Either way, each little waterproof Tile costs $18.95 and lasts a year, at which point you have to order more. The price is a little steep, but as the intro video weirdly suggests, Tile might help you find not just your laptop, but your soul mate.