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Jared R. arrived from Boston on Sunday afternoon with my replacement iPhone, marking the end of three full weeks in Paris without a mobile phone. My phone was insured, with overnight delivery, but, it turns out, only to a U.S. address. I elected to wait until Jared arrived to avoid the further risks entailed with trying to have it shipped internationally. While there have been a few awkward moments the experience has been surprisingly tolerable, and even somewhat liberating.

In the early years of my petits séjours in Paris I would buy a French SIM card to give me a local phone number, but I wouldn’t pay the inordinate charges for wireless data. I would carry my regular smartphone as well as the Frenchified phone so I could use the Internet when I was connected to wifi. The smart phone also allowed me to use a map application that would use GPS even without an Internet connection, but to search the web or access most apps I would have to find wifi. The consequence was a bit like traveling through a desert from oasis to oasis.

Lacking a smartphone altogether wasn’t like this, however. It was more like the days before cell phones, when you had to make plans by “land line,” then rely on maps and actual brains to get where you wanted to go. I did have a computer and an iPad at home, so I could surf, text and call normally from there. But when I stepped out the door I was out of touch, except for the information of my five senses. There were drawbacks, which I’ll describe next, but the lack of digital distractions was downright exhilirating. (Not to mention the fact that I no longer had to worry about some pickpocket stealing my mobile phone.)

  • Telephone and Text: The lack of any form of mobile communication required careful coordination and planning before I left home, unless I was with someone who did have a phone, which was often the case. I could have lugged my iPad around and staggered between wifi spots but I never did. There were only a few instances where this created problems:
    • One significant issue arose when the gilets jaunes delayed both Zhizhong and me from a rendezvous at the Petit Palais. I was late and he was later but we had no way to tell each other. Fortunately we found one other and had a lovely afternoon. (We had neglected to agree on a backup in case the Petit Palais was closed, which would have been far worse.)
    • The bus made me quite late for dinner last week with Ali, but I had warned him and he was patient, so it wasn’t a big deal.
    • Ironically, the worst problem was when Jared arrived from Boston. It turned out that our doorbell doesn’t work, and he relies on wifi, so he had to go across the street to tell me he was here. I went downstairs but didn’t see him (where of course I couldn’t get his messages), then came back up and found a further message saying he was having lunch at a nearby restaurant. I joined him and all was fine, but it’s funny that the big issue was just a few feet from the apartment.
  • Camera. A flâneur has to take pictures to share the experience with his friends (and, tbh, to make them jealous)! Luckily, I carry a high quality portable camera (a Canon S120), so I could still record my Paris life. If I hadn’t had a separate camera I would have been truly bereft at the loss of my phone. I did miss the ability to make panoramic photos, but I’m making up for lost time now.
  • Google Maps. I had paper maps (one from home and one free from the métro), and I know Paris pretty well, so navigation wasn’t a problem. What I did miss was the ability to get route recommendations on the fly. I would get an itinerary from home, then take a picture of the iPad screen with my camera, but to get home or go somewhere else I would have to use the subway map and my noggin. This worked fine in Paris but it would have been more challenging, in, say, Bangkok.†
Who needs a smart phone when you can navigate with a map?
  • Uber. I never wanted to call an Uber during these three weeks, but I was acutely aware that I wouldn’t have been able to. Paris is well supplied with taxis, so it wouldn’t have been an issue in the busier areas, but if I’d been trying to get home late at night from some remote quarter I might have felt quite unhappy.
  • Translation. I know French well enough to get around. There were a few moments when a friend looked something up to resolve a subtle point, and once or twice I wasn’t sure what something on the menu was, but there was nothing I felt any burning desire to translate. This could be quite different for someone who didn’t know the local language.
  • Social Networking Apps. I had them at home but it was a pleasure not to be bothered by them when I was out and about. I’m interested in enduring friendships, not hookups, so I didn’t miss anything.
  • The Fork / La Fourchette. Several times in the first month I used this app to reserve a restaurant on the fly, and I have continued to use it from home. I earned 10 euros (count them!) at the end of May through the site and I’m close to another reward. Paris has so many good restaurants, however, that it’s falling down easy to find one wherever you are. I was sad not to be able to play this game away from the house but it was no big deal.
  • FlashInvaders. One of the biggest impacts was highly personal. For the last three years I have enjoyed adding to my collection of little (sometimes big!) street artworks by Space Invader. A photo has to be taken with the app on a location aware cell phone, however, so all I could do these past three weeks was to snap the location with my camera, with a view to going back later with my cell phone. There are, however, 1,407 artworks in Paris, of which I have snapped only 108. So my plan now is just to snap the ones I see while going somewhere interesting rather than forcing myself back to the ones I ran across during my cell phone hiatus.
  • Pokemon Go. For 18 months I was addicted (instead?) to Pokemon Go, but fortunately I have been clean and sober for more than a year so the inability to chase those imaginary pocket monsters wasn’t an issue.

The theft of the cell phone also gave rise to many practical issues, mostly concerning second factor authentication. Fortunately I had anticipated and provided for many of these issues so recovery in this area was almost seamless. I’ll post separately about this, however, since it’s really quite different from the day to day lack of a mobile phone.