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IPFS News Link • Communications

The Perils of Having a Smartphone as Your Main Means of Connection

•, David Lumb

Last week, I was on a call with a carrier's support line trying to return my new iPhone I'd bought through its store, which meant transferring service to a backup phone. Unfortunately, I'd left that backup phone at my parents' house across town -- so when the carrier cut service and the call went dead, I had to drive half an hour to get my backup handset. 

It was the first time I'd been completely without a mobile connection since college. If I had an accident or got lost, I was on my own. Heck, I couldn't even text my dad that I was coming home. My smartphone dependency reared its head and I felt bereft and isolated without a lifeline to the world in my pocket.

On Thursday morning, tons of AT&T customers nationwide felt the exact same thing when a service outage abruptly cut them off from mobile networks. Several hours later, service was restored, the carrier explaining that the outage was due to "the application and execution of an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network, not a cyber attack."

While its network was down, AT&T told affected customers to lean on Wi-Fi for their smartphone needs, which can keep folks connected in a pinch if they stay in one place and don't need to use cell network-only services like SMS. But for everyone else who had to drive to work or otherwise leave their house or office, the outage was a reminder of how much our daily lives are routed through smartphones.

It's such an obvious reality that it requires little explanation -- anyone hitting a dead zone on a long drive discovers they can't alter their GPS route through their maps app or stream a new song. Same thing when you don't charge your phone and it dies late at night. An annoyance, but usually a temporary one. When outages last an unforeseeable length of time, it shows how much our daily flow depends on an endless stream of information and connection.