Among all the useless crap I can no longer live without, I now reluctantly count the iPhone 4. The realization came to me as the salesperson at Best Buy pitched me accessories while ringing up my “free” upgrade from the long-obsolete iPhone 3. “And you absolutely must have a cell phone case,” she told me, “because your new phone is all glass.”
“Wait. Stop!” I said, because I thought my iPhone 3 was flimsy enough, but it at least had that plastic backing that appeared to consist of recycled eighties black-lacquered bedroom sets. I didn’t want to trade it in for one that would shatter like an antique teacup. “Put that phone back and please bring me the one that is made of real material.”
“All the new iPhones are made of glass,” the salesperson replied. “You really need to buy a protective cover, because if this phone breaks, it will cost $800 to replace.” At that I had to clutch my chest and stumble back a bit. This thing cost 800 damn dollars? And it doesn’t even come with, like, an exterior?
“You could always keep your old one,” the salesperson quipped, as though I wouldn’t seriously love to keep my old iPhone, the one made out of melted bowling balls, in comparison to this thing made from laboratory test tubes and butterfly bones. But I have this here eleven-year-old daughter who, just last year at the start of middle school, was entrusted with her own cell phone, which she promptly lost like a Happy Meal toy. As punishment she went cell phone–free for as long as I could stand her to, because it turns out that the most agonizing moments in the history of forever are contained in the thirty minutes it takes for your girl to slowly meander the eleven blocks home from her new school every day. When she had her own cell phone, that half hour was bearable, because I could incessantly text her with, “Are you okay?” and “I need to know you’re okay,” and she would respond with calming missives like, “I’m okay,” and “Still okay Mom,” and “MOM I SWEAR I AM OK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
But then one day she lost her cell phone along the trail, like a big, expensive bread crumb, and the ensuing plan—probably playing into her hands the whole time—was for her to inherit my old iPhone, which in turn I would replace with the upgraded yet easily shattered model. And so I wouldn’t have to spend that half hour stuck against my front window anymore, breathing like a small bird.
I wonder how this happened. When I grew up, my only option to communicate with my mother while she was at work was to actually pick up a handset the size of a barbell and dial her secretary, who would then get up on her cankles and track down my mother to come respond. Other than that, my mother spent the day blissfully ignorant of my activities. I could have been looking for lost puppies with a parade of pedophiles for all I thought she knew. But parents today have cell phones, which are pretty close to having a telepathic connection to our kids, thank God, and it just seems unnecessarily cruel to have that connection made of glass.
“I’m telling you, you need the protective cover,” the saleswoman kept on. Lord God, I thought as I forked over the money, you would think that as technology matured they’d figure out a way to make it stronger. But no, they make it more breakable. It should not surprise me. For a long while, I thought things would harden as they got older, but the opposite is true. Take the time my mother was alerted by old-fashioned phone to rush to the hospital where I lay in traction after a dirt bike accident. I must have looked a lot worse off than I was, because I saw how she sank to her knees at the sight of me; how she shrugged off the doctor as he tried to help her up. She thought I was asleep, but I saw. Though it surprised me at first, today it all makes sense. Now I know why she always seemed so tough when she knew I was watching. It’s because she had a protective cover. We acquire them as we mature into the upgraded yet easily shattered models of ourselves. That day in the hospital, she gathered herself when she realized I could see her, and today, on occasion, I can still hear her incessant questions in my ear afterward, popping up out of nowhere sometimes, as through a telepathic connection. “Are you okay?” she whispers. “I need to know you’re okay.”
Illustration by Peter Arkle