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Farewell to Windows phones, and reflections on address books

For over 50 months, until two days ago, I was in a very small minority of mobile phone users: people with Windows phones rather than iPhones (Apple) or Android devices (Google). As I noted in this piece in 2016, just after my last upgrade, it felt like I was supporting the underdog, “the little guy”, although, as anyone who follows technology knows, Microsoft can hardly be described as little. I would have carried on “supporting the little guy” but the screen on my Windows 10 device stopped working on Tuesday and I could not replace it with another Windows phone. My network provider offered me a straight choice: iPhone or Android. I have opted for the latter, a Sony Xperia L1, if that means anything to you.

Unlike the last two occasions when I had to change handset (in 2014 and 2016, Windows phones both times) I still had my SIM and SD cards, so in theory transferring my data should have been straightforward. In 2016 I was pleased to find that over two years’ worth of text messages came through even with a new SIM and new handset, downloaded from somewhere in the cloud by a combination of my network provider and my Microsoft login. This time, even with the old SIM and SD card, and no change in phone number, they have not come through, and I haven’t found a way to access them from wherever they’re backed up. If the new phone required me to log in with my Microsoft credentials (like the old one did) it might have happened, but in order to do anything useful on this Android device, such as download Apps, I have to sign in with a Google account.

I already had a Google account, unsurprisingly, but it has no information from my last phone. The account was set up at a time when you had to be invited to join Gmail by an existing user – you couldn’t just set up an account for yourself uninvited. It is rarely used, and had about 20 contacts, at least half of which are no longer valid – old email addresses from other people who have moved on from the firm we all worked for in the early years of this century. The contacts attached to my Microsoft account (Hotmail, outlook.com, Windows Live, whatever) stretch to several hundred, and have been used and added to daily since getting that first Windows 8.1 phone back in 2014. I installed Outlook.com on the new device and could access all of this contact information, but couldn’t link it to the Phone and Messaging services, so I have imported them all to my Google account via a CSV file. The alternative, suggested by Google, would have handed this process to a third party, allowing them to access my Outlook.com data from a Google account. What could possibly have gone wrong? I didn’t try it to find out.

Google imported the contacts from a CSV file generated by me, and I now have nearly 20 years’ worth of contacts in several different locations: Outlook.com and Gmail (in the cloud and stored locally on the phone) and in CSV files in various places (cloud storage, email attachments, and already backed up onto various drives). There may well be Version Control issues some way down the line but right now everything is up-to-date and distributed across multiple platforms and technologies.

While the contacts were being imported (on my laptop), and I was repeatedly refreshing the screen to check their progress, one name that caught my eye was of a family friend who died last month in County Clare. Part of me wanted to go through the rest of the list to see how many other numbers will not be used again, but I carried on with the mundane 21st century tasks associated with technology upgrades. There were Apps to install, Accounts to be signed into, files to copy and old text messages to locate (without success, as things stand).

Back in the 20th century my contacts were all contained in an A6-sized red address book. I have spent part of this evening flicking through it. A few of my university friends moved around so much that they each had whole pages to themselves: parental home, a variety of places and countries they lived in during their 20s, work details. The phone numbers are nearly all landlines. There are no email addresses. When people moved on I would strike through their old contact details with a single line rather than blot them out completely. I only used Tippex if I made a mistake, never to white out old addresses.

For some letters of the alphabet (B, H, M and S, for example) each of the 8 or 10 sides of paper is covered with contact information and I started making notes on some of the unused pages elsewhere. Inexplicably there are 8 pages assigned to XYZ, two of which have a few details on them, so names like Harrington and Humphries are found right at the end of the book. There are Post-It notes, prayer cards, photos, postcards, and return addresses torn from the backs of envelopes. A handwritten note from my mother, with a phone number and a query about a book, made me stop for a while. She died over 20 years ago. I hadn’t seen her handwriting for many years.

In that red address book there are, inevitably, details for other people who are no longer with us. Some of them died during the years that the address book was still my main way of storing contact information, and, just like old address details, I would strike through the name with a single line rather than obscure it completely. I recall reading a newspaper piece about someone (I’m pretty sure it was Julian Barnes) who mentioned that he did the same thing with his address book. At the time I had already moved on to storing contact details electronically but it struck a chord with me. I do not plan to update my hand-written names and addresses to record whether people are alive or dead. My red address book is a snapshot of friends, family and work contacts for the 15 years before the year 2000: the last up-to-date information was entered right at the end of 1999. I shall return it to its usual location, the storage box full of pocket diaries that I have written about more than once on these pages.

Returning to the present day I have spent a few hours downloading and configuring Apps on my new phone. This was something I rarely did with my Windows phones for one very simple reason: there were hardly any Apps available. The ones that I used most often (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Voice Recorder, and Maps for navigation) were all preinstalled. I downloaded a flashlight and a version of Temple Run for my son to play, and that was about it. On the new phone Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and a Voice Recorder all had to be installed. For navigation I have installed, but not yet configured, Waze, which a number of friends recommend highly. Every App seems to want permission to access and configure rather a lot of things. I have also downloaded Pinball Arcade, with its simulations of dozens of classic pinball tables. Earlier this evening I spent rather longer than I should have playing “Addams Family”, “The Arabian Nights” and “Monster Bash”. As a result I am posting this piece just before midnight, rather than before 10pm as planned. It’s the kind of distraction that wasn’t possible with a Windows phone.




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