Alan Chartock | I, Publius: Cellphone mishap prompts a moment of panic

GREAT BARRINGTON — Someone recently ran over my cell phone in the Guido's parking lot in Great Barrington. What a disaster!

The people at Guido's were, as usual, wonderful and spent a very long time looking for the phone. Unfortunately, when it was recovered it was covered with tread marks and just kept scrolling and scrolling and scrolling.

Not that long ago, I grew tired of having to enter my password every time I used the phone so I took the password protection off. That was a huge mistake and one that I will never again repeat. All of my banking and retirement and confidential WAMC information is on the phone, not to mention the hundreds of e-mails I get every day. You can imagine my panic when I reached for the phone and it wasn't there.

I don't have to tell you how important these devices have become to all of us. They say you don't miss your water till your well runs dry, and when you lose your phone, you know what they mean.

Every time we have an ache or a pain, we research what serious disease we might have and how it might figure in our overall longevity plan. We check the news and the New York Times all day long to see how much of an ass Donald Trump is being today. We go to Facebook to catch up with our children and their children. We shop, we bank, we listen to music.

I am ashamed to admit that I thought I might have been pick-pocketed. After all, there are stories in the papers all the time about people being held up and savaged for their phones, but no, there it was in the parking lot.

That phone is central to my administration of WAMC, so I had to get another one immediately. Thus, I was first in line at the Great Barrington AT&T store on Saturday morning, where the extraordinary and brilliant Hannah was on duty.

Apple is pretty aggressive at raising prices on these phones. At some point you're going to need an upgrade. I'm just warning you — when you have to replace your iPhone you'd better get ready for sticker shock. That's where we hear Tom Selleck comes in because he can tell you how to get a reverse home mortgage to pay for your new phone.

You then have to transfer all your information from the old phone to the new one. Hopefully, if you've taken a lot of pictures of Murray the Dog and the kids and grandchildren, you've backed up to the cloud.

Naturally, there are problems. I'm pretty sure that our browsing history and the information we have supplied through our use of various apps has been used to help advertisers make individual pitches to us. It seems awfully strange that when I am reading a top newspaper online, I keep getting message after message about a particular shaving device.

Put another way, a good deal of what we used to think was private, such as our purchasing habits, is now in the hands of people who would hawk their products to us. I am less worried about the information being in their hands than about being constantly interrupted by getting the same message over and over

When I lost my phone, all of my worst fears emerged. What if someone did, in fact, get hold of my phone? What could all that information be used for? Would I have to spend immense amounts of time canceling all my accounts, just in case?

We know there has been major hacking of social media agencies worldwide. We have been told that the North Koreans and the Russians have been active. But it all becomes much more real when your cellphone goes missing and gets run over.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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