The Relief of Dropping An iPad
Cracked screens and scuffed edges. The mental toll of using devices not designed for the real world
A few weeks ago, I dropped my iPad. There was a moment, a gut-wrenching moment, seemingly in slow motion, as I watched my iPad Pro, 12.9", with its Apple A12X chip, Bionic 64-bit architecture, and Apple M12 motion coprocessor fall. Millions of dollars of research and development, decades of Moore’s Law, and the ultimate manifestation of Jony Ive’s vision meet: the floor.
At the Apple Special Event™ that launched the iPad Pro, the screens behind Apple’s polo-neck-enveloped executives filled with abstract videos of iPads spinning, tumbling, and turning through the air, weightless and indestructible. In the split second my iPad fell, those images popped into my mind as a sort of cruel mocking parody of the fate about to, quite literally, befall my iPad. The difference between Apple’s marketing videos and my world seemed infinite. In Apple’s videos, a falling device is elegant. Like a ballerina. In my world a falling device is clumsy. Like a brick.
Apple’s imagined devices never come into contact with the sharp corners of reality and concrete. No devices in promotional videos have cracked screens. The fronts are immune from fingerprints. Most aren’t in cases. To hear Apple’s videos tell it, you’d think no one had spilled water on an iPhone until Apple introduced an IP67 waterproof rating.
In the real world, our devices fall in toilets and baths. They break and chip. Walking around, I see people swiping thumbs across spiderweb screen cracks, and I give an involuntary shiver. Have they just dropped their device and, even now, are swiping to book an appointment at the closest Genius Bar? Or can they not afford the exorbitant repair cost and are making do? Perhaps they have got used to the crack in the same way we get used to scars and no longer notice it as they scroll their way through their life.
My iPad survived its tumble, with just a small chip in its bezel to show for it. I breathed a sigh of relief. The visceral fear we have of our fragile devices falling is not just economic, but also emotional — a fear of the perfect world of silicon and aluminum coming into contact with reality, shattering the fragile fantasy esteem in which we hold our devices. If Neverland is a world where people never grow up, Apple-land is a world where devices are never damaged.
With my iPad chipped, I noticed a sort of pressure lifting. This is not the first time I’ve found myself suddenly enjoying a possession more once it had been damaged. I had, I think, been unconsciously using it with kid gloves; cautiously carrying it from room to room, cleaning surfaces before I set it down, and positioning drinks far away from it. Caring for my iPad Pro was a sort of invisible mental load I carried around. The one thing I wasn’t carrying around though was the iPad itself, which I left home for safety. Even when taking it with me would have been useful.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that when it was out of sight, I worried about my iPad Pro the way a parent might worry about a toddler that had wandered out of their eye line. But toddlers don’t have edgeless HDR displays, 500 nits of contrast, and screens that can so easily be cracked, so who’s to say which one is the most stressful to care for. If anything, maybe I wasn’t being careful enough with my iPad. Toddlers fall over a lot and you don’t have to shell out $329 each time. The average cost of taking your toddler to the ER in the US is $79 cheaper than taking your iPhone to the Genius bar.
But now that my iPad has its sheen of perfection knocked off, I find that I use it with more reckless abandon. Perhaps the people with the cracked iPhone screens aren’t keeping them because they haven’t got around to repairing them, but because the cracks are a relief.
But what a kick in the teeth from capitalism: tricking us into spending four figures on devices we are then terrified to use to their full extent out of fear of damaging them. And these are devices that, for them to be useful, we must carry around all day. My seven-year-old desktop computer, I notice, still looks as new as the day I bought it. My seven-month-old iPhone, not so much.
I would suggest that we wrap our devices in as much padding and Gorilla Glass as possible, but using your device without a case has become a status symbol. “It feels like a crime to put a case on,” Nick Statt writes in The Verge, “these devices, particularly Apple-made smartphones, are best experienced in their out-of-the-box form.” There’s an implication that those who use their iPhone without a case have somehow heightened sensitivities for design. Maria Teresa Hart’s manager at Vox tells her, “People worked to get this phone as slim as possible, and now I’m going to slap a thick case over it?” Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist, describes to Vox the mental process behind this attitude: “I’m above the possibility of damaging my phone, and if I do, no big deal because I can shell out for a new screen.” It is a signal of wealth.
A colleague at work has a solution to this that I find fascinating and horrifying in equal measure. Whenever he buys anything new (a jacket, an iPhone, a car) the first thing he does, once he takes it out of its sleek packaging, is damage it in some small inconsequential way. He scrapes his fingernail on the underside of his Mac to scratch the aluminum. He scruffs the lining of his coat. He taps his iPhone on the table to dent it. This way, he says, he doesn’t worry about damaging it anymore and can use it free of worry. I find the idea darkly compelling, a piece of psycho-consumer self-care.
Still, I’ve never been able to carry out this act of self-vandalism on my own devices. It feels too wanton. However, although I might grimace when they slip and fall and chip, I’ve started to also let out a sigh of relief when my devices are damaged. Finally, I think, the pressure to keep them pristine is lifted. And now, I can actually enjoy them.