Life without mobile internet

A temporary du outrage reminds us of our collective addiction to the mobile data

 a du shop in Jumeirah Centre in Dubai. Sarah Dea/The National
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How many phone numbers do you remember off the top of your head, without looking at your phone? For the average person with a smartphone, the answer is probably very few. In a short amount of time, the data of daily life – from phone numbers to directions and shopping lists – has been outsourced to our mobile phones. This is one reason why mobile data disruptions are big news around the world.

This week, du suffered an outage of its mobile data network. For roughly four hours, customers were unable to use data on their mobile phones in the UAE and around the world. To be sure, these types of outages are common. They are far from the end of the world, but when concerned parents were unable to contact their children at school and loved ones were unable to check on each other, the effect can be profound.

There is a silver lining here. The outage reminds us of our collective reliance on mobile phones and the data infrastructure. When a winter storm hit the east coast of the United States last month, residents had to refresh themselves on ways to stay in touch if the mobile network went down. When power is knocked out, charging mobile phones becomes a major challenge. The spectre of cyberwarfare, in which the mobile infrastructure is attacked, is also an increasingly serious threat for the international community as a whole.

The small disruption of service that du customers experienced is a good reminder that we need to be ready for an emergency situation in which our mobile phones don’t function. We should take a little extra time to jot down important phone numbers and establish backup lines of communication that don’t include smartphones. While this might seem like a big task, just 20 years ago smartphones didn’t exist and people were still able to communicate. Beyond the inconvenience, hopefully some of you were able to enjoy a precious few hours untethered from your smartphone. We all need a break sometimes.