Cracked screens give street cred

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iol scitech june 10 broken iphone The broken screen is like a pair of torn jeans for the technology generation.

Washington - Brittany Lofton spots them all the time: teens and students clutching their beaten up cellphones, with screens so cracked that spider-web-like patterns creep across the glass.

The screen’s razory shards make reading a text and posting Instagram photos super blurry, not to mention slightly painful. But that’s part of the appeal.

Introducing the cracked cellphone screen, which raises the bar by lowering it. Think of it as the tech generation’s ripped jeans or unwashed hair. Unshaven faces. Low-riding jeans. People who love high-low decor and city streets.

The blanket-of-broken-glass look infuriates many parents who can pay a couple of hundred dollars (R1 991) to fix the screen or, if that’s not possible, up to $600 for a replacement phone.

Meanwhile, some young people say a cracked screen gives you a sort of street cred, like you’ve been through some real-life stuff, even if it happened on the mean streets of Bethesda. It’s tough, subversive and cool.

It’s that age-old teenage narrative: the desire to define your identity. In this generation, the awkward tumble towards independence is personified in one slim device, which also happens to hold a teen’s entire social life.

“It’s this total trend, because it’s not like we’re rushing out to get them fixed,” smirked Lofton, 23.

“A cracked screen is like this really cool scar.”

“Plus, it’s a great conversation starter,” chimed in her friend and co-worker, Samantha Lasky, also 23.

As in?

“How did you crack your cellphone?”

“I dropped it in my cat’s water bowl.”

If it all sounds like an Onion cartoon, well, it is. (Actually it’s an Onion video, this being 2013.)

“The iPhone 5C, the best new iPhone since you broke your last iPhone. It’s the phone you love, just broken,” says the spoof which includes a British-accented female news anchor reporting that Apple has introduced the first iPhone “specifically for college-aged girls which comes with an already broken screen”.

Lofton and Lasky, both Howard University graduates in psychology, said they saw cracked screens as a form of self-expression.

They whip out their phones and dial up websites selling the latest “cracked screen wallpaper” and “pre-cracked screen savers”.

These are not as cool as a real cracked phone, they say. But they are funny.

“I mean, they’re going to crack it at some point, so why not just get it out of the way?” one slogan reads.

A variation of the cracked front screen is the busted-up back cover. A broken back panel can be modified by colouring in the cracks. Done with care, it’s made to look like a rainbow of stained glass.

“You just need red and blue permanent markers and maybe a yellow highlighter. Then, you colour in the glass, and it looks really cool,” said Julian Shadding, 17, of Hyattsville, Maryland, who dropped his iPhone while walking his dog.

“But enjoy that cut on your finger,” said Trevor Lyman, 27, co-owner of CrackedMacScreen Repair Team in Northwest Washington.

He says cracked cellphones have become popular partly because they are so expensive to repair.

The psychology goes something like this, he says: you break your phone. You can’t afford to fix it. You are kind of embarrassed you did it.

“So maybe, you don’t want to ask your parents for money,” Lyman said. “So, you tell yourself, I’m gonna be badass with a broken phone.”

There is a class dimension to all of this, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University and author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.

“If you’re low-income and you’re surrounded by signs of deterioration, you don’t see a cracked-up phone as a sign of status,” he said.

But to really understand the phenomenon of the cracked smartphone screen, you have to realise how attached the younger generation is to cellphones, said Bauerlein, 54. “These phones are the embodiment of their social lives with the tremendous power to keep up with their friends. So, it’s really a tool of their independence,” he said.

“They are the locked diary of this generation.”

So, if the phone is dropped and broken, are you broken?

The fragility of the phone means you cracked it, Bauerlein says, but, look, it still works!

“So it survived,” Bauerlein said. “And that extends to you. You’re worldly wise. You have a kind of toughness. You’re a survivor.” – The Washington Post

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