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She was 4000 miles away. Seven hours apart. A name in a chat room. Imagine my surprise when I found out who she really was!

Last week, during a trip to Italy, I was reminded how incredibly small the world has become. I’d had my suspicions: I log more than 100,000 air miles most years. About one third of my social connections are from outside of the United States. Yet fast planes and even faster tweets don’t truly describe how close we stay to each other these days, wherever we go.

It started the day before I left. My Samsung smartphone finally died (the hammer helped). The HTC Sensation looked like it might live up to its name, especially with a T-Mobile 4G SIM chip, although the $15/MB roaming data charges would probably make the pignoli nuts seem cheap by comparison!

Still, one must be connected, right? So 4000 miles later, I attempted my first FourSquare update at Bologna airport, only to discover: no data service. The phone’s settings were correct: I could receive text messages, too. The automatic Warning! You’re about to get (beeped) on your data charges! text had just come through. But no email, web connection or GPS.

A quick call to TMobile’s technical support confirmed the settings. Then, they gave up. TMobile doesn’t guarantee you can receive data on any international roaming, he said. Really? Profusely apologetic, that was all he could offer. He suggested I reboot the phone, he’d call me back, and see if it made any difference. It didn’t, except to make me madder. I was actually trying to spend ridiculous amounts of money on tiny amounts of data and all he could say was: We don’t guarantee your phone will work in major Western countries.

I reached for some pignoli nuts; and some wine.

For a few days, I simply gave up on the issue. Most of the cafes, piazzas and churches had WiFi. (I’ve written before how connected the Pope has become.) It wasn’t a crisis, especially since all of the WiFi Was free, too. My iPad worked at our house. Still, it seemed ridiculous that I couldn’t check an email on the bus or train.

One night, suffering from time-change insomnia, I decided to try again. Connecting my iPad to WiFi, I Binged for some answers. Alas, TMobile’s support forums were helpless. Then, by almost accident, I found their “live chat” function and gave it a click.

Up popped a chat room and Nancy offered to help. Here were the first few lines:

Nancy M: Hi Matthew , welcome to T-Mobile live Chat.
Matthew Ferrara: Hello
Nancy M: I’m _Nancy and I will be happy to assist you.
Matthew Ferrara: I can’t get data internationally on my brand new HTC Sensation
Nancy M: I certainly understand how important this is for you.
Matthew Ferrara: Can you check that my data plan works in Italy and germany?
Nancy M: Let’s make sure you have international roaming feature on the account.
Matthew Ferrara: I can get calls and SMS

Nancy’s first response was to try what we’d already done: Confirm the settings were correct on the phone. After I replied that it was correct, she then suggested a second approach:

Nancy M: To activate t data service, enter #RON#
Matthew Ferrara: Ok…did it… It found TIM
Nancy M: Oh good.
Matthew Ferrara: I think it’s working…. I see 4G symbol!
Nancy M: Ok, good.

It was that simple! Simply type #766# and the phone connected to the data service. Suddenly I was connected. And suddenly, mad.

Matthew Ferrara: Why didn’t they know that when I called four days ago??????
Nancy M: I don’t know Matthew.
Nancy M: Are you emails coming in?
Matthew Ferrara: Yes
Matthew Ferrara: they should have known. I’m very upset at that…..

Anyway, I didn’t want to take it out on Nancy. She’d helped me, after all. I suggested she tell her supervisor that the rest of the help desk didn’t know to try the #-commands, or didn’t know them. And I thanked her again.

Then came my surprise:

Matthew Ferrara: thank YOU
Nancy M: Awesome.

Nancy M: I have actually attended some of your seminars, Matthew.
Matthew Ferrara: What????

Nancy M: Real Estate Broker for 25 years.
Matthew Ferrara: OMG!!! where?
Nancy M: Rockford, IL
Matthew Ferrara: Wow! Well, you have saved my day….. Good job!
Nancy M: Not a problem.

There she was: 4000 miles away, multiple time-zones apart, in a chat room on an iPad trying to connect a smartphone to a foreign telecom. Nancy, a real estate agent who moonlighted (literally) as a technical support specialist. She’d been to one of my seminars, she recognized my name, and she solved my problem.

The moral of the story: Today, the world isn’t just small. It’s tiny. In fact, if fits on the screen of an iPad or a smartphone. Space and time mean nothing any more. You’re always in your sphere of influence. Your friends, family, and past clients are always with you. That’s the wonderful world we live in – made better by the fact that we can all reach our Nancies whenever we need them.

Thanks, Nancy!