I Lost My Phone for 24hrs and This Is What Scared Me

The message I got the day I lost my phone and rang myself.

I Lost My Phone for 24hrs and This Is What Scared Me

Last week, I was dashing with arms greedily full of cakes and sandwiches, having placed my phone into the hood of my buggy, collapsing the buggy and handing it to the driver to stick in his trunk.

Too much in a rush to get into the cab did I notice 'til two hours later at home, that my phone wasn't around me as usual. Mouthful of cake, I casually ask my partner Matthew to call my phone. Ten minutes of rummaging later, I couldn't hear it ringing anywhere in the house.

I frowned. Casting my mind back to the last time I used my phone, I facepalmed at the thought I'd last seen it in the hood of the buggy.

Hopefully it dropped into the cab then? A quick call to the taxi rank, and the response was no, sorry, the driver looked and there's nothing.

Could I have dropped it in the road?

Now I started despairing. I searched my bag for the tenth time, searched my buggy, looked on my driveway. I even checked inside the fridge where I'd placed the sandwiches, reminiscing of the time back in 2001—the last time I misplaced a phone—when in an equally desperate moment I'd checked inside a kettle for my lost Nokia 8310.

It was serious now. I got into my car, and drove back to where I'd got the cab. I crouched down like a madwoman eye-level with the pavement, walking up and down, hoping it might be just laying there. I asked local shopkeepers if they'd seen anyone pick up a phone. Nothing. "My CCTV doesn't work anymore," one helpfully added.

Someone must have it...

... someone must now be watching that video I sent yesterday to help my sister with her newborn—of me milking my own nipple. I groaned. Oh, and the explanatory video of me showing how to 'wedge' the nipple into the mouth of a newborn... demonstrated on a pink fluffy pig toy.

Great, just great.

No, I could never bear having a screen passcode, so now I shuddered at the idea of my intimate images in the hands of a stranger.

I rushed home to my computer to change all my passwords. Gmail, Yahoo Mail (absolute bugger that one), Paypal, eBay, Amazon... Screamed when Instagram asked for two-step authentication to reset my password. I haven't got my friggin' phone! With a pang I thought of WhatsApp. Have I lost my chat history? All the assets? Actually, it was all too much to take in, so I didn't want to face finding that out yet. I keeled back, holding my wriggling six-month-old baby who was now grabbing onto my drooping face. "Look, it's just a phone. Just be glad you didn't drop her," Matthew pointed out. "You're right," I said, trying to stop hyperventilating, and took his offer of an old SIMless phone to use in the meantime, like a smidge of cocaine to tide over a drug addict—and even though I don't consider myself obsessed with my phone—it came as nice comfort second down from a cup of caffeine.

Reflecting on what I—might have—lost

Thankfully, as I regularly dump my photos of my computer every two months, I knew I'd only lost a maximum of two weeks of photos since my last dump. Otherwise, I'd be a wailing wreck by this point, no matter how profound the consolation. I never use phone back-up software because it irritated me how it was always chugging away endlessly.

I tried calling my phone again from Matthew's. It was still ringing. No answer. No one ringing back to say "I have your phone." I messaged myself on WhatsApp. "HELLO DO YOU HAVE MY PHONE?" half expecting someone to say "yes, this Samsung is an oldie but it'll do nicely, thanks for the breastfeeding demos too..." But it came up with one tick, meaning the message hasn't been delivered to the device. Reassuringly, WhatsApp said I was 'last seen at 10:52 AM.' As I'm ever concerned about WiFi radiation from my phone, it was a miracle it wasn't on Airplane mode, but roaming was off so it wasn't trackable using Google.

I rang my service provider EE, and once I'd sweated through some harrowing security questions to confirm yes it's actually me, they offered to deactivate the SIM card and blacklist the phone. Hang on, I said. If you do that, I won't be able to call the phone anymore. Let's hold on for now.

Looking for clues

If my phone had dropped in the road, and if someone nice had picked it up they'd have answered or called me back by now. If someone nasty had it, they'd surely have turned my phone off by now, ready to wipe and restore it to factory settings for their own perverse stolen use.

It didn't make sense that my phone was ringing, WiFi still off, WhatsApp message pending. I was, still, 'last seen at 10:52 AM.'

Our detective work concluded my phone was just sitting somewhere, no-one touching it. So I didn't want to ring it too many times, in case I flattened the battery out, wherever it was.

I rang the taxi rank again to be sure. Because, you know, people are idiots and don't do things properly (ahem, no comment).

Actually, I got Matthew to do it. Tell them in your deepest, most authoritative masculine voice categorically that we want to check the taxi ourselves. And that er, we''ll pay the fare.

... Driver's clocked off for the night.

It took FIVE more calls and a half-sleepless-night to finally get the driver to come over reluctantly, the next morning, so we could check his trunk for ourselves. I felt half stupid, because he already said three times he'd checked, but I just knew there was nowhere else it could be.

Hey presto...

As soon as the driver opened his trunk, the disarray inside made us instantly sigh. His boot didn't even have a bottom lining! It was a complete mess (which in my daze the other day I hadn't looked to see.)! I made sure I got Matthew's phone out, right there, and rang mine from it. Straight away—we could hear it—ringing and vibrating from underneath his spare wheel. He had to physically haul it out!

I got no apology and had to pay his fare for the trip. But there it was! What relief. Without persistence it would be stuck in his car till the battery died and I would have lived with a mystery more annoying than why my two cats went missing at the same time on 11 December, 1997.

More than credentials

We all know that these days losing your phone is like losing your wallet. Your identity, your daily tool. Every app we download, we become that inch more dependent on our phones in a utilitarian sense. We use it for every physical purpose you can think of.

But it's not just that we're dependent on our phones.

It's more than that. It's creepier than that. We are in love with them.

I might be a millennial, career leveraged through social media, a child of the digital age. But I'm also a bit of a technophobe, with Luddite tendencies, five years late to the smartphone train, and regularly fantasising of getting rid of it. I spy my future as using less technology, not more. I'll be boycotting 5G for as long as I can—I don't want an 'internet of things.' I curse and honk loudly at people who walk across the road staring at their phones. I find it unbelievable, mortifying. The day I do that, you have permission to run me over.

Yet even for me, when I lost my phone, I felt like I lost a part of myself. And it's only partly because of the standard reasons... the credentials, the pictures, etc. It's the loss of the phone as a quasi-human entity.

I felt like even if I just got back the phone, dead and black-screened, to hold it in my hand again would be a relief.

I was looking at my six-month-old baby, mourning the loss of the phone pictures of her, even though I knew I hadn't lost most of them—only two weeks of them—it was not because I'd actually lost anything. It was because my phone had pictures of her on it, and those pictures humanised my phone. Here she was in front of me, the real thing, and yet not having that thing in my hand that I took pictures of her with, made me miss it like an extension of her, extension of me.

It is as though this technology weaves a layer between us and the living beings around us. A layer that is pretending to be just as human. The pulling away of that comforting membrane, by losing my phone, made me feel scared and vulnerable. But I also felt like if I could go on more days without it, I would realise just how extraneous it was, that I never needed it. Skin on skin with my fellow living beings.

We love our phones like people.

Those Black Mirror episodes are not science fiction. We're already there.

Are we becoming transhuman? It's not as weird as it sounds.

Do you look at your phone last thing at night, first thing in the morning? When you're hungry, or tired, or angry, does it delay the urgency—maybe even satiate you completely—to look at your phone instead? Do you snap at people or ignore them when they disturb you on it? Do you think about your phone even when you're not on it? Do you find yourself going to your phone for no reason? Since smartphone era began, how's your social life? Your active life? Your sex life? Your eyesight? When you look at your phone, do you breathe less? Blink less? Move less? Actually, when you look up and move again, do you get a pain in your neck from being so very rigid that you could've been mistaken for a Tussauds waxwork?

All these, magazines will tell you, are signs you need what they call a digital detox. A break from your devices. But few of us would even be able to face giving up our phones completely. Would you even want to? Could you even go without for a day anymore? My 70-year-old mum's on WhatsApp. My 89-year-old father-in-law's on Facebook. My baby falls asleep to an app sound of a washing machine. My business sales come through email. Instagram hearts still spike my dopamine levels. Can we ever go back to just using a desktop or laptop? With two-step authentication for logging into anything now, do we even have a god damn choice anymore?

Losing my phone made me glad to get it back, but more curious about what we're losing by using them.

I learnt some valuable lessons the day I lost my phone. Of course, there's various security features I can look into to protect my stuff better and avoid all the cringing I went through. But that 24 hrs exposed a weakness, an attachment that was more emotionally pathetic. I won't be giving up my phone, but I want to cut back on apps, not add to them. I want to use my laptop more. Books and libraries more. A pen and pad more. My real camera more.

I want to be 'last seen yesterday at 10:52 AM' more often.

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Read next: Wearable Technology: The Good, The Bad, The (Literally) Ugly
Natalie Lennard

I am a fine-art photographer and mother based in the UK, creating Birth Undisturbed, an award-winning series staging scenes of childbirth. (www.birthundisturbed.com). All proceeds from clicks and tips go toward the next in the series.

See all posts by Natalie Lennard