10 Dec 2019 16:08 IST

Lost your phone? Life, as we know it, will stop

A nightmare that I’d lost my phone made me imagine how life would be without it

I was visiting clients over the weekend and as I slept in my hotel room after a long day of driving, I had a terrible nightmare. Tossing and turning didn’t help. Each subsequent scene turned into more grotesque segments of a Stephen King-style horror movie. Luckily some brain cells warned me that it was all a big dream. I woke up in an instant to stare at the dull night light on the wall, immediately extinguishing the horror forever. As I rolled over to settle in yet again, I knew that all the anguish of the last God-knows-how-many-hours was about my iPhone. I had just lost it — but luckily, only in my dream.

At breakfast the next morning, I tried to relive the dream. I know many others can, but for me, this is nearly impossible. So I wore my analyst hat, fully awake, and began to think.

What exactly would happen if I lost or damaged my iPhone on a trip?

My six appointments for the weekend, including the locations, were in my Google calendar which automatically synchronises with my iPhone. So I couldn’t access the appointments. Even if I could somehow remember one of the addresses, how could I go there? Not having Google Maps or Waze, that would be most inconvenient. I could stop at a gas station convenience store, but when was the last time I saw maps for sale? I can’t even remember. Perhaps ten years ago.

Even if I did find a maps shelf, what was the chance that the store had maps of Katy, Texas, which is where all of my six appointments had been planned? A large scale map of Texas wouldn’t help me a bit.

As I sipped my coffee, I calmed down. I could always call my wife — I know her number by heart, although, I don’t think she can recall my phone number from memory — and get her to log into my office computer. All the computers in my home use the same password, so we are never locked out. She could give me all the client addresses and phone numbers — and I could call them for directions, the old fashioned way. “Really?” I paused. How stupid would I look to my clients? I laid that negative thought to rest. My clients are certifiably nice people and no one would make judgments about me based on something as mundane as asking for directions.

But where would I call from? I stared across the hotel lobby and there were no public phones. Even ten years ago, you could find at least one payphone hanging from the wall. No fretting, though. I could always ask the desk clerk to let me use the hotel phone. But almost immediately, I realised that the idea wouldn’t work.

My wife would never answer her mobile phone from an unknown number. It would simply roll over to her voicemail. She also has a pathological aversion to checking voicemails — preferring to dial back any missed calls from known contacts — so, it would probably be days before she would even check my voicemail to call me back at the hotel.

This was getting worrying. I had another idea. I could walk into the hotel business centre and log into my office email from one of the public computers there. But that too wouldn’t work. My email address is protected by two-factor authentication using the Google Authenticator app on my phone. And I don’t have my phone, remember?

Then I remembered that I had saved ten backup passwords in my wallet to access my Google account precisely during such emergencies and, using these, I could get into my email and calendar after all. If I was running low on backup passwords, I could always print out ten new ones from the hotel printer. Or, I could return to my hotel room, and use my laptop to log into my email. Because Google trusts my laptop, it wouldn’t ask for my 2FA password.

Once into the safe world of Google, I could print out turn-by-turn directions for all six appointments and carefully file them in order. For the next morning, I could either set the alarm on my clock radio on the nightstand, or I ask the hotel desk for a wake-up call. Old-world solutions were coming back, so things were not looking so bad.

But what if my clients sent me a message on WhatsApp to indicate a change in plans, such as requesting a reschedule? I use Business WhatsApp and I can check it on the desktop version of my laptop, so, as long as I was still in the hotel room, I would be fine. But what if they sent me a WhatsApp message when I was on the road getting to their home? Or if they texted me using SMS? Or even called my mobile?

Well, I would just have to look stupid ringing their doorbell and confessing that I couldn’t check my messages. My client would feel bad too, rescheduling a meeting so late — and would call me in for tea to make amends.

So the story doesn’t end badly, after all — because there’s nothing like salt crackers and a hot cup of tea, not to mention the pleasant company.