Write Stuff Down: A Tale of a Locked Mobile

Yesterday I flew down to London to sit on a panel titled ‘Digital Dystopias: Civil Liberties In A Digital Age’, as part of the UK Liberty League’s ‘Freedom Forum’ of 2015.

The journey meant getting up at 5am, though really it was 4am as the result of clocks going forward… and heading back later on that day. I wasn’t able to get decently priced trains for the times that I needed to get there in time. I packed light, and didn’t bother to bring my laptop with me as I usually would for a trip like this.

Rather ironically, on my way to speak (partially) about the need to be aware where your data is being transferred online, I got an untimely reminder of my own over-reliance on my phone. Having switched it off for the flight, when it came back on I was prompted to type in the full password. This isn’t something I have to do too often, making use of the Touch ID facility, and it turned out I couldn’t remember what exactly it was. I had opted to avoid using the ‘simple’ code, which is really just a numerical pin number, as it was far too easy for people to read over my shoulder, then use it to ‘frape’ me or something equally uncouth. Back when I was in a band we used to punish each other for leaving our phones unlocked by sending multiple text messages containing the phrase ‘wanna see my weasel?’ to random numbers. This is something I wanted to avoid happening again.

The way things progress when you’ve forgotten your password, or at least, which variation will grant access, is this: You get a few chances, then you get locked out for 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 6, then 15, then 60… then completely. Ouch.

This wouldn’t be too big a problem if I didn’t completely rely on the phone for uh, everything. The location of where I was meant to go for the conference? On the phone. The phone numbers of all the people who could help? On the phone. Since I like notebooks, I had luckily copied down some of my notes, as well as printed out my boarding pass – but I could just as easily have left the former in Evernote, and used the Easyjet app for the latter – and almost did.

I eventually persuaded somebody at an information desk in Victoria Station to Google the conference venue for me, and worked out where to go using the big ol’ printed maps. It didn’t help that the streets were closed off due to some huge stabbing incident the night before, so I had to wander around for a while before I got to the venue. But all was well.

Letting my wife know that I wasn’t dead was another matter. I couldn’t get in touch with her via any of the apps on my phone – obviously. I wondered about finding a good ol’ fashioned pay-as-you-go web machine (or a computer) to login to Facebook or something and drop her a message. However, that wasn’t the end of the complications. Even if I could find an Internet cafe (seriously, wtf do they call rental computers now?!), I couldn’t actually login to any of my services anyway. My passwords are all 30 odd characters long, randomly generated things that are stored in a secure database that is only available on my laptop or… my phone. Even if I could get into a backup of them somewhere, I would still need to verify my identify using two factor authentication. Also, on my phone.

In the end, I resorted to a payphone. Trying to locate one was amusing, with the people I asked for help looking at me as if I was mentally deranged, or a drug dealer, or both. To be fair, I’d probably have the same reaction in their position. The payphone was only slightly helpful though, as eh… I don’t know anybody’s numbers. Literally every single number of everybody I could get in touch with was stored in my phone. Mind when you used to remember them off by heart? Well, the only one that my memory would serve up was my gran and granda’s. Luckily, they were able to get a hold of my parents (in Amsterdam) via Skype, who then sent a message to Grace to let her know what had happened, and that I wasn’t lying in an alcoholic coma somewhere.

I did eventually find a computer in Gatwick airport, for what it’s worth – but it charged 10p for one minute of access to the Internet. I’m not sure exactly who they think will pay for that shit given there’s free WiFi everywhere – and WTFTENPEEPERMINUTE!? This isn’t the 90s when the web was a novelty.

So I had to suffer the injustice of a whole day with no Internet access, and no way to contact anybody. It was a weird experience, surrounded by thousands of people who were connected up to their eyeballs with a myriad of devices… yet unable to take advantage of any of it, even if I asked.

I think I’ll write things down more often.

Oh, as an obiter, I was told that I’d have to wipe my phone completely and restore from backup to get access back. This proved to be tricky as I had just gotten a new laptop, ergo… no backups. I discovered that if you go into Find My Phone online (if you have it enabled via the iCloud), that you can re-trigger the ability to insert your passcode again if you make the phone play a sound. Good to know for the future.

5 thoughts on “Write Stuff Down: A Tale of a Locked Mobile

  1. Holy cow this is scary. Doesn’t help that I’m already super paranoid about being too reliant on my phone, which is why I still print out paper maps and stuff, but I’d be completely stuck without all my passwords. I’ve actually had crazy thoughts about what would happen if I suffered from amnesia and couldn’t remember some key master passwords that I haven’t written down anywhere!

    you can re-trigger the ability to insert your passcode again if you make the phone play a sound.

    Very good to know!

  2. Call me old fashioned but that’s one of the reasons I print off maps, or scribble down addresses on my notepad, whenever I’m going somewhere new. It is a bit of a necessary evil as most of the places I go to for work are industrial warehouses or hangars near airports, with roads merrily named as “Industrial Road No. 1” or “Perimeter road”. Technology is great but when you’re lost fuck-knows-where, under pouring rain, there’s nothing better than a HB pencil and some paper.

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