I lost my cell phone last week, and immediately went into a pronounced tailspin. In a hurry to make an appointment, I must have left the phone -- an iPhone 5 Black 32GB -- on the top of the car as I pulled out of the driveway. Within minutes, I realized that the phone wasn't where I usually put it. I doubled back in the vain hope that the phone would turn up. It did not.
The sense of loss was particularly acute because I had not downloaded the crucial app for such circumstances, "Find My iPhone." What a great and comforting asset this app could have been; with a tap or two, I would have been able to locate the device (everyone else in my office with an iPhone seemed to have it). The lack of this single application added to my sense of ignominy, and was a lesson in keeping up with the pace of new features. Fortunately, I did have insurance, and for $199 the replacement arrived overnight. With the assistance of colleagues and efficiency at Verizon, I was able to recover all my contacts, email, and calendars. Even my suspended phone number was restored.
This frenetic episode lasted barely more than a day. But the experience of losing a handy device that until then I pretty much took for granted felt like a big deal. My intense reaction provided a valuable personal insight into how attached I had become to the phone, even if I am not one of the tens of millions who text, check Twitter, or take pictures all day long -- among the many activities on my iPhone 5 I very rarely use. The variety of smartphones -- Apple's iOS, Google's Android, RIM's Blackberry OS, Samsung, Microsoft's Window Phone, among others -- and the apps available for them offer almost limitless uses, to the point that the role of mobile devices is a national pastime, with the prospect that virtually the entire population will eventually have them in some form. A Pew Research Center survey in 2012 found that 46 percent of American adults own a smartphone, up from 33 percent in 2011. At that rate, the figure must be well over half of Americans are now carrying a phone that has as many features as desktop computers and tablets, plus their core function as a telephone. The indicators are also that the age of first-time smartphone users is dropping as low as middle school.