TLDR: I lost my phone and got it back — thanks to technology and kind souls.
On Monday, I dropped my phone in a Grab car. I realised it as soon as I alighted, but the driver had already driven off and disappeared around a bend. Wishful thinking in full force, I checked around me, hoping that the phone had bounced out of the car and onto the pavement. A broken screen was easier to fix than say, a non-existent phone.
No such luck.
• • •
The last time I lost my phone, I did not manage to get it back. It was my first phone, a Nokia 3210, and I lost it on a cab. It was late, and when I realised it, I called my number frantically only to find the phone turned off. I remembered neither the cab company (it was late and dark!) nor the cab’s car plate.
There wasn’t much I could do except to call up the various cab companies and cross my fingers that someone was kind enough to return it.
No such luck there too.
• • •
What do you do when you lose your phone 15 minutes before an interview?
For some reason, my first instinct wasn’t to call my phone. My phone was on silent mode, so calling it would not likely draw the driver’s attention. Also, there was no public phone to be found.
Instead, I started looking for an open WiFi network. I had my laptop and I thought I would log into iCloud and use “Find My iPhone” to trigger a loud, annoying sound (I know this feature, because I previously used it on several occasions to find my phone when my colleagues hid it — another story).
Walking around the Duxton area on a quiet Monday afternoon yielded few open WiFi spots — there were a few guest networks from hotels nearby, but none worked. Unfortunately for me, people have been paying attention to cybersecurity, and WiFi networks are now mostly protected and with a not-my-company-name password.
I walked into a 7-11, and asked if there was a WiFi network that I could tap on to (“Sorry, I lost my phone and am trying to find it. Do you have WiFi that I can use?”). Unsurprisingly and quite rightly, the staff said no and helpfully offered unhelpful advice that McDonald’s has free WiFi. The nearest McDonald’s was but 1km away in the opposite direction. Well-intended, but not for me this time.
I walked past closed shops and cafes (because it was Monday, and also presumably because it was the first Monday after Chinese New Year) before finding an open cafe. It was closed for a private event, but the kind staff was generous enough to provide me the password to their WiFi. For some reason, my laptop decided that I wasn’t in enough of a rush and refused to connect.
Several unsuccessful attempts later, I gave up. In a strange state of calm, I headed for my appointment.
• • •
How different is a phone from the early 2000s compared to my current phone (iPhone X, released 2017)?
My Nokia 3210 could make calls and send SMSes. It had a contact book with phone numbers. It wasn’t ready for MMS. The display was monochrome. I played Snake on it a lot.
When I lost my Nokia phone, I simply lost the convenience to call and text someone easily. Back then, public phones were still a common sight, so that loss probably wasn’t that acutely felt. Well, I also lost my Snake record, which I’m pretty sure I was proud of.
My iPhone X is a totally different machine. All our smartphones are. It knows where I am, even when I don’t. It is a contact book, a navigator, a mailbox, a dictionary, a calculator, a watch, an alarm clock, a delivery service, a camera, a photo album, an encyclopedia, an appointment book, a music player, a calendar, a game console, a language teacher, a notebook, a credit card, a library, a private eye, and a telephone of course.
When I lost my iPhone, even for just a few hours, I lost all that ☝🏼. Simple activities became a test of the memory. Tasks required more steps. Actions and decisions became deliberate. I did think, oh yay this is how not checking your phone feels like, oh all these uninterrupted moments of life! Then I came to realise that this forced abstinence did not grant me freedom; instead, I spent more time and effort fussing about things that I did not have to think about in a long time.
(I need to spend time freed up by my phone’s intelligence and automation on more productive activities.)
The Nokia trumped the iPhone in one aspect though — battery life. That phone could run for days.
• • •
The interview went well, I think. At the end of our 45-minute chat, we thanked each other for our time and I asked if I could access their WiFi. It wasn’t usually how I would end an interview, but I figured that if anything, this request would certainly distinguish my interview from others (though, perhaps not in an entirely positive way).
My interviewer graciously agreed, and I finally managed to get into iCloud and put my phone in Lost Mode.
With Lost Mode on iCloud’s Find My iPhone, you could get your phone to display a custom message so that whoever picks it up can see this message. Notifications and sounds are turned off, and Apple Pay is also disabled. I set my message to indicate that the phone has been lost, and to contact an alternative number.
For good measure, I also played the sound a couple of times. The sound is an annoying one; it starts soft and builds up into a sharp crescendo. There is no way anyone can ignore it, though there is the risk that it may piss someone off enough to turn the phone off.
Next, I launched Telegram on my web browser, hoping that I was still logged in. I did not have much hope, to be honest, since the last time I was on my browser was 10 days ago before I left for Tokyo. But, amazingly, I was still logged in. Thank you, authentication token. I fired off a couple of messages to my friend — dropped my phone, someone may try to call you, sadfacestickers.
Lastly, on my freeloading WiFi agenda, I decided to see if I could contact Grab without access to my phone number (since login is usually via OTP). I had never really looked at these e-receipts, but that day, I opened my receipt for that particular trip and saw this link right at the bottom, “Lost an item on this ride?”. Blimey, that’s me!
The Grab page I was directed to first asked if the item has been lost for less than 4 hours ago. It stated, “We all know that the fastest way to check or retrieve a lost item is to contact the driver immediately.” To facilitate that, users would be able to call their driver directly from the Grab app. Uh huh, quite helpful, I thought, but it wouldn’t help someone who has lost their phone.
If the item was lost more than 4 hours ago, users were asked to complete a form with certain details. If you indicate that your phone is the lost item, you are then prompted to enter the mobile number that is registered with Grab. I wasn’t sure what this did, and am still wondering about it now. Does it disable any Grab transactions? Does this help them locate the driver, in case I did not manage to provide my trip details?
Form completed and sent, I bid adieu to my interviewer and left their office. My next appointment was in 1.5 hours, so I decided to take a cab back home. I hailed a cab, told the driver my destination, and paid for the trip in cash.
The retrieval of my lost phone did not involve me too much.
By the time I reached home, the Grab driver had contacted my friend and they had arranged a location to meet.
Since I did not have a fixed line, and just in case I needed to call anyone, I started charging my spare phone, which had a backup SIM card. Happily connected to my own WiFi, I watched my phone move from Joo Seng to Geylang, and finally to Aljunied.
My amazing friend delivered my phone to me, and 2.5 hours after losing my phone, we were reunited.
• • •
There were plenty of kind actors in this lost-and-found tale.
Technology played a great part in rewriting and accelerating the outcome of the same story that had a very different ending 15 years ago. My phone, with all its GPS/location/sensor bells and whistles, played a starring role in its own retrieval. Apple created useful services around these features, and made me appreciate them a teeny bit more.
Back in 2000s, when you misplaced an item on a cab, unless you had memorised the car plate number, the odds of getting your item back were most definitely not in your favour.
Today, I know probably too much about my trip. I know the name of my driver, how they look like, their car plate number, their car model… and I can very easily contact them if I wanted to. Even when you lose your tool of communication (i.e. the app and the phone), there were other methods of reaching out.
Grab started out with a desire to make cab rides safer and more accountable. And in their quest to achieve this, I presume, they built in features like the ones I mentioned above. 👏🏼
• • •
Lastly, while technology provides the enablement, in the end it was people who went out of their way and helped that really made all the difference.
My interviewer who let me use their WiFi.
The customer service representative at Grab who helped to coordinate some of the communications.
My Grab driver who kept my phone and took time out of his schedule.
My awesome possum friend who took the trouble to pick up and deliver my lost phone!