I lost my phone yesterday. I might have left it in the cab when I got out because I was in a hurry, or it fell off my bag. I don’t know. Bottomline, it was gone. I guess Fate took a hand in my dithering decision-making because I was really planning on getting a new phone anyway. The loss just sped up the process. Still, losing the one I did have was a shock to the system. Spent most of the day yesterday phoneless and here’s what I realized:
We’ve lost the capacity to remember important details. I still remember the time when I knew my friends’ phone numbers off the top of my head and just call them — on a landline! Yesterday, I can’t recall any of my friends’ numbers, not to mention my mom’s or my brothers’. Another thing I realized: There must be whole businesses who have gone the way of the dodo because of smart phones. I mean, who uses actual paper address books these days?
Not being tethered to a phone is exhilarating — and scary. Going around town yesterday, with no means of contacting anyone at the drop of a hat and for people to reach me instantly, was liberating, in a way. I loved the freedom of it. I think I am not as tech-tied as some of my friends are. I could leave my phone alone in my bag for long stretches of time, I could stand to spend a day not checking out or doing anything on it. I think I have a healthy relationship with it. Or so I thought. My “healthy” attitude was illusory. It stemmed from knowing where my phone was; it was a voluntary untethering. If I needed to get connected, I could do it at a push of a button or a swipe. Yesterday, I didn’t have a choice and so had to be incommunicado for most of the day. It was unsettling and I realized how insecure we have become, drawing comfort from a piece of plastic to feel instantly connected.
Our phones are our lives in data form. I realized yesterday that all my important information is in my phone. Account numbers, PINs, usernames and passwords, loved ones’ important dates, pictures, chat conversations, my location at a particular point in time… Everything is in there. The fact that these could have been tampered with or seen by some unknown person felt like someone was pawing through my underwear drawer. The thought felt like a violation of my privacy. Not only that, I realized that while I have been blithely storing away data on my phone, I’ve never thought about what happens if someone else gets their hands on it. So I didn’t make any precautions….
…but everything gets stored somewhere anyway. I wasn’t too worried about retrieving my data because I sync my phone fairly regularly. So I could, one way or the other, get those fairly easily once I synced my new phone. What unsettled me was that for the few hours that I had no control over my phone, my personal information was out there, unprotected. How many user names or email addresses do you use? What are their passwords? I counted mine, and I had around 20 usernames and password combinations — everything from email addresses, to all the websites and apps I regularly use. Retrieving all that is fairly easy, because of iCloud and other storage options though I realized I haven’t fully synced my phone since the start of February, so that’s about two months’ worth of conversations and photos that are lost forever. That’s a small price to pay though, for getting most of the information back. But how about protecting these bits of data? For instance, I store bank and card details on my phone for easy access. Thank God that Apple has an app called Find my Phone, which can locate and remotely erase all the data from my phone. That went a long way towards reassuring me that my data wouldn’t be used by someone else. I changed all my passwords anyway. You never know.
Here’s a timely article from The New York Times on how to protect your data: How to Shield Yourself from Smartphone Snoops. I’ve started doing most of what the article suggested except for the encryption part, since I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.