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What Happened When I Lost My Phone
I thought cell phone dependency was a cliché – until I lost mine far from home

“What number can I reach you at if anything turns up?” the lady at the front desk of the hotel asked me, smiling brightly. Well, uh… that’s kind of the problem here, I thought. It was my phone that was missing.

So there I was in a hotel, in a big city, in another country, far from home. With no phone. First off, I can’t call or text anyone – and within a couple of hours my family and the people at work are going to be wondering what’s happened to me – but it goes way beyond that and I was about to start finding out just how dependent we’ve all become on our smart phones.

My hotel reservation number? On my phone. And, come to think of it, so is my flight number home and my ticket code. And the schedule for the conference I’m there to attend. What time does it start, again? What room? I can probably get a printed agenda somewhere and, in the meantime, I’ll find a phone booth and call home and my office. Except that there are no phone booths anymore. And people’s cell numbers? I, uh, well, the fact is, I don’t know anyone’s cell number. Right – they’re all on my phone. Who knows anybody’s phone number anymore? Look it up in the book? What book? Directory assistance? Only for land lines, sorry.

Pretty soon I was feeling like the guy in one of those sci-fi movies who’s knocked out of phase in space-time by an explosion in the reactor core, or whatever. He can see the people around him, but they can’t see him, and he can’t communicate with anyone.

This all started with an entirely different lesson for Canadian travelers – lesson learned the hard way, as all good lessons are. I had flown to Austin, Texas, to attend a conference, and met a group of people going to the same hotel at the baggage claim. We decided to share a cab and one lady had snagged a minivan with a Yellow Cab Co. Taxi sign. When we got to the hotel, the driver made a show of trying various credit cards but all were rejected by his system and we ended up paying cash. His idea of helping with the baggage was to open the tailgate for us.

As soon as he left – in quite a hurry, it seemed – I realized my cell was gone. I was sure I had it when I got into the cab and, after a frantic search of pockets and briefcase and jacket, came that sick moment of realization that it must still be in the cab. I quickly asked the lady who had the taxi receipt for the name of the company and their phone number. Curiously, the receipt said Lone Star, even though the cab had a Yellow Cab Co. sign.

The hotel security people promised to do what they could. They even pulled up their security camera footage and got me the number of the cab. I called the taxi office. Lone Star had no taxi with the number of our cab. No driver by the name on the receipt. So I got the number for Yellow Cab Co. and called them. Same story. No taxi number like ours – their number system didn’t even resemble the number.

It seemed that our driver was a, well, let’s say a highly entrepreneurial independent operator.

The best advice anyone had was to go to the nearest pawn shop, call my number and see if there’s ringing behind the counter. Very helpful. I did call my number, but the phone was already turned off or, more likely, the SIM card had already been switched. Someone just got a phone upgrade.

At the conference, there were no pencils or notepads at our places. At any given time, looking around me, I could see a dozen people making notes on their phones. Or checking messages. Or surfing. During lulls in the action, every phone in the room seemed to be out – check the weather, quick look at the news headlines, send a text home, make sure there are no little fires to put out back at work… I found myself automatically reaching for my phone I-don’t-know-how-many times.

Somehow, I made it through the first day. Asking for hard copies of everything from the organizers. Calling the office from my room during breaks to pick up messages. Making notes on paper with an actual ballpoint pen.

One of the speakers talked about mobile devices – just to rub it in, it felt like. Everything, he told us, is now done on your mobile, even buying a car. One in 5 people rarely go more than 8 hours without going online. Nearly 3 out of 4 people spend more than 3 hours per day online. The number of baby boomers – that’s my generation, before Millennials and Gen X – who surf the web on mobile devices has more than doubled to 57% in just the last 5 years. And basically everyone is on social media – well, okay, 60%.

It actually got even sillier. Like a lot of people, I often don’t wear a watch anymore. Who needs one, right? But the clock-radio in my room didn’t work. Probably nobody ever used it. You set the alarm on your phone, check the time on your phone, listen to music on your phone. So I called reception. Again, they were very helpful, and brought me up a really nice clock radio, brand new, still in the box. I unpacked it. Plugged it in and went to set the time. Wait. There were no buttons. Check the instruction for setting the time… it seems you just have to synch it with the Bluetooth on your phone!

That evening, when I thought I had everything more-or-less under control, having finally reached most of the people who were wondering about my sudden disappearance off the face of the earth – seemed like – I did what I often like to do in a new city. I went for a walk. Just to unwind and get a sense of the place and the people. Beautiful downtown, modern buildings. Quiet residential areas. Huge stores. A large park with walking and running paths. I walked for hours – ironically, the one piece of technology not on my phone was my entry-level fitbit, which later told me I had gone 23,000 steps.

And at some point, I realized that I had no idea at all where I was or, more to the point, where my hotel was. But who worries about that nowadays, right? You just pull out your phone, go to one of the navigation apps and… oh oh.

Well, as you can see, I did make it home. But this adventure really got me thinking about our dependency on our mobile devices. There are any number of things that can knock you off the grid – lost phone, or broken or dunked in the pool on holidays. Or maybe an ice storm that takes out the internet connections in your area. So I’d like to issue a challenge: Can you go three whole days without connecting through any of your devices? What would you do? How would you cope? And what backup plans should we have ready when we travel?


I had a call last month from my old friend John G. Smith, Editor of Today’s Trucking magazine, who was looking for some expert input on benefits management in the logistics industry. Good to hear from him and I was happy to help. He shared the resulting article – I think you’ll find it interesting.

Plan for benefits in driver recruiting, retention


Looks like we’ve all made it through another great year. I’d like to thank all the readers who’ve reached out to me with their comments, their take on some of the topics we’ve covered, and their questions and suggestions. Love to hear from you, and by all means drop me a line – from your cell?

From myself, personally, and from all of us here at Penmore Callery Group, I’d like to wish you a happy and healthy Holiday Season, and all the best for the New Year.


If there is a topic that you would like me to write about, please email me at bill@penmore.com

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