Accidentally Destroying My iPhone Really Put My Entire Life in Perspective

Photo: Brian Feldman

For the past eight years, I have prided myself on never having seriously damaged my iPhone. Maybe there’s been some simple wear and tear, but no cracked spiderweb screens or exposed innards. For many years, I even used my phone without a case: The rectangular iPhone 4s/5s designs are pretty sturdy! In 2016, I got an iPhone 7 and the thing felt dangerously light, so after noticing a scratch appear on the back, I put it in a cheap case. Still, it has served me faithfully for the last three years.

Given that ominous introduction, you can probably guess what happened to me on a walk to the subway this week. I went to pull my phone out of my left pocket, and it got snagged on the lip at the top of the pocket, sprang out of my hand, and dropped straight to the ground. The screen, duh, is very cracked.

I always imagined this sort of thing happening in slow motion. Me feebly diving toward the ground, bobbling the device as it spins out of my hands over and over — a comical amount of bobbles — and eventually lands on the ground, where it takes a few bounces and lands face up, smashed beyond repair. Reality was less cinematic: The phone flew out of my hands and before I had time to react, it was facedown on the ground. No bouncing, no sickening crunch, just a loud thwap.

A calm immediately settled over me. Ah — this thing is absolutely smashed, I thought to myself as I reached down to pick up the phone. I was correct. I yelled one brief expletive after turning my phone over and then continued to the subway. I slid over anger and right into acceptance (admittedly, it helps that my phone is an old model I’ve been planning to replace when iPhone price drops happen in September). It appears that the glass on my screen is cracked, but I can still see everything on the screen beneath the glass. There are no dead pixels, as far as I can tell, though there is some slight discoloration from changes in, uh, pressure?

I have a friend whom I have never seen with an uncracked iPhone; every time I see her, I hear about a new trip (or two) to the Apple Store. I give her shit for it all the time. How does someone continually break a device so expensive and let that become part of the normal routine of phone ownership? But it turns out that having a shattered smartphone is … incredible. At least for the last dozen hours that I’ve had to deal with it, it’s exhilarating. Do I love it? Maybe! (Will I tire of it soon? Probably.)

Here is a very scientific diagram of the cracks on my phone, separating the large pieces of glass from the crunchier, more brittle, scratchier sections.

What I did not realize about having a shattered phone screen is that it turns using my device into an adversarial activity. My phone, once a companion, is now an enemy. Trying to read news articles or browse social feeds through the cracks is not impossible, but it requires effort — minute scrolling adjustments, tilting my device to make obtrusive fractures disappear. There’s a bunch of smaller tesselated breaks right in the middle of the screen, and so everything I look at I feel like I’m viewing through a periscope. I can see some of the work, but not the entire thing all at once.

Not to be discounted is that sliding my finger across the screen is physically painful, like I’m always one clumsy swipe away from a paper cut or a tiny splinter of glass embedded in my finger. There is literally no way to swipe down and open my Notifications screen without a little prick. It functions like a 21st-century shock collar. Everyone should experience it at some point.

There is a burgeoning movement among tech types to focus on “time well spent,” a lofty phrase about making sure that tech use is fulfilling engagement instead of empty usage. Along with the philosophy are some recommendations for how to make mobile devices less addictive. You can tweak Notifications so that only important ones set off a ding, or change your phone’s display to grayscale so that it’s less bright and visually compelling.

Or you can straight-up shatter your phone into a bunch of tiny razor shards that literally make you wince if you start using your phone thoughtlessly instead of deliberately. I wouldn’t count out the effectiveness of option two.

Maybe Shattering Your iPhone Screen Is Actually Good?