Had any bystanders witnessed the attack on Duncan Davidson late one evening three years ago, they could never have guessed its epochal significance. It was a February night in Long Beach, California, and Davidson was walking to his hotel after a long day of work. West Ocean Boulevard was unusually dark. The streetlights were out. The sidewalks, thickly over-treed, were invisible from the road. As Davidson made his way through the gloom, a man grabbed him from behind and said, “I need your badge right fucking now!”
Dangling from Davidson’s neck was an all-access staff badge for TED, the four-day ideas conference he had been hired to photograph. TED is best known for its eclectic eighteen-minute talks, videos of which often go viral online, and the expensive and clubby annual event where the talks are given. Davidson was also carrying a backpack containing cameras and lenses worth tens of thousands of dollars, but it went ignored. The man squeezed tighter. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will,” he warned.
Davidson thought quickly. At this hour, it would be difficult to notify everyone that a violent, credentialed TED impostor was at large. The attendees included famous people like Bill Gates, Al Gore, and Meg Ryan. Davidson told the mugger he couldn’t give him the pass.
“No, you don’t understand,” the man said. “I’ve got to get in there and meet those people.”
“I made the decision,” Davidson recalls, “that I don’t have arms, but I have legs.” With the guy hanging on his back, Davidson dragged himself toward the street. As they reached the curb, the mugger let go and took off running. From behind, Davidson saw that he was a professional-looking man wearing jeans and a light jacket.
The Long Beach Police Department seemed doubtful of Davidson’s description. “The police kept asking,” Davidson remembers. “They didn’t want to believe it was a well-kept white guy. They really thought it had to be an itinerant or gang type. It was cognitive dissonance.” The attack perplexed Davidson too. This was an attempted identity crime the likes of which the world had never seen—the strong-arm theft of an ideas-conference badge—and he was the first victim. “It’s easy to think that money is the currency of the world,” Davidson says, “but there are other currencies.”