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church-tech-09-14-1From his column Church Tech

“Please reply with your phone number, as I have lost most of my contact information. Sparky chewed up my phone.” So read the email from a good friend who recently made the transition to her first smart phone. (I knew that bacon-scented phone case was a bad idea!) Feeling sympathetic to her plight, and thinking of how other smart phone buyers might be one hungry animal away from data apocalypse, I thought it might be good to talk about basic smart phone setup.

Email, Contacts, Calendars

Based on experience with previous phones, my friend’s expectation was that her contact information was stored physically on the phone’s SIM card. This means even if the phone was chewed into kibble, a phone store helper could vacuum up the information and load it into the new phone. However, smart phones generally do not operate this way.

One approach is to think of a smart phone as a window into your data. If your smart phone is destroyed, your data has not ceased to exist, just your view of it. For instance, consider your checkbook. If your paper checkbook ledger is destroyed, your money hasn’t vanished. The bank still holds your currency and maintains an official log of transactions. You can contact your financial institution and recreate the information in your checkbook as necessary.

And so it is with your email, contacts, and calendar on a smart phone. You may retrieve data by connecting with a service that holds the master copy of the information. Some good options are Google’s Gmail, Yahoo, or Microsoft’s Outlook.com. By the way, if you currently download email from an Internet provider onto your local PC, this is a good time to switch to a more accessible, cloud-based service. Create an account, and then, on your smart phone, set up a connection and use it to view and update data. Now, whenever you add a new contact to your phone, the information is added to the master copy in the cloud. So whether you use your PC, phone, tablet, or a friend’s computer, you have access to the same information. And if any of these devices is lost or becomes fish food, your data remains intact and available for replacement.

You also may connect the phone to your employer’s system (perhaps Microsoft Exchange) if permitted and you are interested. With this arrangement, your phone will blend the two sets of information together. So appointments in your Microsoft work calendar and personal appointments in your Yahoo calendar will be available on your phone without sharing personal information with your employer.

Security

With all this personal and, perhaps, work information on your phone, security is a significant issue. Be sure to create a password on your phone so if someone steals it, they cannot gain access to your personal information. This means you will have to tap in a code to unlock your phone, but I imagine you already use locks on your house and car doors, so this won't be anything new. Some phone models now have scanners that use a fingerprint as the key.

Another useful security measure is to set up a tracking application so if your phone is lost, you can access it from another computer and send a message that erases all personal data. For the iPhone this tool can also force it to sound out loud even if the ringer is off. This can be especially helpful if Sparky buried it under the couch cushions.

I also encourage people to consider how they want to protect their smart phone investment. The phone may appear to be “free” with a two-year contract, but if you have to replace it, you may be surprised at the unsubsidized cost. One approach is to purchase a protective case—OtterBox cases are especially good. Cases are helpful against drops, but may make your “work of art” phone look more like a Gameboy. Also, you may purchase an extended warranty from the maker of a phone or your carrier. These usually have a deductible, but they cover every type of damage. Or, you may want the ultimate peace of mind afforded by adding your phone to your home insurance coverage, which typically covers theft. Know yourself, and choose an option that works best. One thing you do not need is a screen protector. The glass on most modern phones would require a hammer and chisel to make a scratch.

I did not mention photos and meeting notes, but you can see some of this discussion in earlier articles about digital photography and living in the cloud. If you take some time to get to know and set up your smart phone, and treat it like a portal and not a lockbox, and if you refrain from meat-scented phone cases, you should do fine.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.

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