A few days into our trip to New York City, I was trying to call my wife to ask her where I should meet her, and the phone packed up. The screen had turned black. I walked to an empty bench in a park, sat down, crossed my fingers and rebooted the device a few times—an old iPhone 5s. Black screen again. Did I forget to charge it the previous night? Unlikely, but I attached the power bank and waited. No luck.

A deep breath. Now what?

Here I was in the middle of a foreign city without a phone, wondering how to contact my wife, check which subway to take to get where she was, and with no access to Uber. Just as well that we had decided on a “if-I-can’t-get-across…" meeting point. And fortunately also there are several LinkNYC kiosks all across Manhattan where you can access maps and directions on a screen, charge your phone and get free Wi-Fi.

Long story short: I made it in time.

It’s only when you don’t have a phone you realize how dependent you are on the device: apart from mail and news, you check the weather before you step out, look at a map for directions, search for museum timings, access show tickets, choose a place to eat and use the camera for memories. And it’s also good to have one to read your book on long subway rides.

Would I still miss my phone if I were on a holiday in Costa Rica or on the Galapagos Islands instead of New York City? Yes, because all my things to do, places to visit and how to get there are saved on the phone. We no longer carry guidebooks. I read them at home purely for the pleasure of it, to get into the mood for the holiday. We make notes from travel guides and save them on the phone.

Yes, we did manage to have an equally great time when these devices didn’t exist, but that was a different time and age. Some years ago I decided to go back to an old Nokia, but the romance was rather short-lived. I admire people who manage without a smartphone. I know someone who still uses an old phone with physical keys: temperamentally, she is a Buddhist.

With a dead phone in my bag, I had two choices: have it fixed or buy a new one. I was quite sure the holiday would become a bit of a pain if I did not have a smartphone. We could have managed with one phone between the two of us, but it would be nice to have your own: she is more focused on what to see and do, and I just like to drift.

Back home that evening, I plugged the phone into a Mac, and there was a flicker of light on the screen. Perhaps the operating system had got corrupted. There was an update available, and half an hour and several desperate taps on the phone later the screen turned a shade of textured grey.

While I could vaguely see the numbers on the screen, everything else on the phone had become incredibly slow. The behaviour was erratic.

The fixer in the subway station said the screen was damaged and he would replace it for $70 (around Rs4,550). Will it also improve the speed? “No, sir. Yours is an old phone and it’s not fully capable of handling the latest software." So that accidental update was a serious mistake. Then can I go back to the previous version? “No sir. That’s not possible."

I gave the phone to my son, who managed to downgrade the operating software. So while the iPhone speed improved, there wasn’t much I could do with it because the screen was still a deeper shade of grey.

At the Apple store they said they would charge approximately $130(around Rs8,450) to change the phone’s screen. May as well get a new one, I thought. It would be cheaper than buying one back in Delhi.

Whenever I am in a “digital dilemma" or have a question about a gadget, I contact my friend Akash Chopra in Delhi. He suggested that I should buy a new phone in the US, but I didn’t want to upgrade. Why spend money if I can have it fixed? So I sent him a message: can the screen be fixed, and if yes, how much? His reply: “Yes, it can be. Rs2,500."

My old phone’s been fixed, and I am quite pleased with my decision.

Shekhar Bhatia is a science buff and a geek at heart.

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