Apologies to a dead iPhone

by McCord FitzSimmons

With the arrival of the iPhone 5, contributor McCord Fitzsimmons ponders his long and troubled relationship with the smartphone era.


Over the years I’ve massacred a tremendous number of cell phones. Their leaky, inky, LCD remains still dwell in a desk drawer that could easily serve as a museum of mangled personal electronics.

Some, in the rat’s nest of abandoned charger cables, have fared better the short trek into obsolesce.

Others, less so.

There was the drowning of a Sony Ericsson. One fateful Fourth of July weekend, its careless owner failed an attempt to walk up a wet water slide.

Picture Phone Samsung did manage to survive a three story plunge down an elevator shaft.  Saved only by the delicate mixture of dead leaves and garbage that lay at the bottom of every elevator shaft, coupled with some ingenuity and general disregard for one’s personal safety.

I don’t know what happened with my Palm Treo. All I know was that I brought it with me overseas, and when I returned my carrier begged me to stop using it on their network.  The customer service rep said my phone probably “picked up something” whilst in Thailand.

Since then, I’ve had iPhones. My 3G iPhone scratched its way into my heart, but had the decency to fall apart right as the iPhone 4 came out.

Win-Win, I thought! But as soon I saw the iPhone 4, I knew that my days of cell phone abuse were over. IT IS ENTIRELY made of glass.

I decided that I would be extra careful. I would buy a case for it, put it in a pocket separate from my keys, and instead of throwing it at my couch and running to the bathroom when I got home, I would GENTLY place it somewhere. With these sacrifices I was prepared to make, I could probably keep the phone unbroken for at least a month.

It lasted two months before it shattered.

APPLE CSI:  What happened?

ME:  I woke up this morning and it was just broken.

APPLE CSI: MMM (considering) do you wear tight pants?

ME: (mouths “No”)

APPLE CSI: Let me take a look at it…mmmm it wasn’t dropped, I can tell by the way the glass shattering looks. It seems like some sort of blunt trauma.

ME: Well I’m glad whatever it was hit my phone, and not two inches over, where my balls live.

They gave me a new free phone and said that it was a one-time deal.  That mantra was repeated a year later, when I dropped the second one, returning it back to the sand from which it was forged.

I knew that the next time I’d be on my own.

A short time later, I took my iPhone out of its case and realized that the back glass was broken. At first it didn’t bother me. After all, it was always in the case. But then for some reason it really ate at me.   That this invisible imperfection existed.  That even though I would never see it, I’d still know it was there.

So I went on Amazon and for a few bucks got a back replacement kit.  I slid the old cracked paper-thin back out and replaced it with the new one.  Now I had a Red iPhone. And the pride of fixing my iPhone, I felt like Nerd God.

This foul, foul hubris would be my undoing.

Soon thereafter, Red iPhone fell on some concrete and did not have the wherewithal to land on its two dollar back, but instead face first.

Whatever. I fixed this phone once, why can’t I do it again?

Surely I am more adept at putting an iPhone together than an (alleged) 12 year old Chinese kid. Even though the (alleged) Chinese factory line child-worker gets to practice for like (allegedly) 16 hours a day.

So, the pieces came in the mail and I was ready to embark on the next step of building a completely counterfeit iPhone out of what had once been a real one.

I watched a YouTube video on how to fix it and learned that every single component has to be removed in order to get to the mounting screws for the screen.

Every little piece has to be taken out: The tiny motor that buzzes in your pocket to let you know your phone wants something from you. The thumbnail-sized microphone that relays your words of wisdom to the universe. The battery, heat sinks, motherboards, and a bunch of other stuff. For the sake of brevity we will group these together as “electronics bullshits”.

After all that crap is lying around on your table, you can finally take out six(!) more screws and then remove the screen from its housing.

All these teeny tiny little pieces are crammed inside the iPhone with about thirty screws.  Look at your phone, there are thirty screws stuck in that thing.  Also, not all the screws are the same size or use the same screw driver.

Or, if that seems too daunting, you can just fling some of them aside and offer yourself some false rationalization about “redundancy”.

Once the vivisection is done, repairs can be made. I start by pushed the new screen into the mount and realize it’s not quite working. I figure it’s me- since it’s always me- and keep trying to jam it in there.  One of the flimsy mounts breaks off. Then I look closer and realize the mounting brackets don’t line up with holes for the screws.

THESE FUCKERS sold me the wrong screen.

With no other option, I begin putting together the phone with the old cracked screen, piece by microscopic piece. Tiny screws are tightened. Components reassembled. Lunch is eaten. Connecting the speaker to the fatherboard is what I would imagine performing a hair transplant on a doll must be like. I think they actually use spider silk or something.

Finally, things are sort of crunched back into there. It’s time for last step: Pulling the digitizer cable through the slot and reconnecting it to the hardboard and motherdrive. The digitizer is the thing that turns your finger gestures into magic and lets you instantly access the millenniums worth of information cultivated by all of humanity. The cable connecting them wasn’t quite long enough, I needed a bit more.

So, I pulled a bit more.

And suddenly I was holding the severed cable in my left hand, the  hopelessly broken phone in my right. I’ve had nose hairs come out with more difficulty.

With that, it was time for bed. I could deal with this in the morning, which I now realized would be when I happened whenever I woke up. My alarm clock was now broken, you see.

That first day, I must have reached into my pocket countless times, responding to faint phantom buzzes. Even when not reaching for my phone, most of my inner monologue was about the phone:

“I should text So-and-So”.

“No phone”.

“Oh riiiight, ah I’ll just call them”.

“You still need the phone for that”.

“That Macy Gray cover of ‘Creep’ is pretty good… I should be listening to that.”

“Only the phone can make music now.”

“Where am I? What time is it?”

“Spacetime exists only within the phone.”

I wish that it hadn’t felt that way. Truthfully, I’m embarrassed at my complete reliance on this stupid thing.  A thing I never even dreamt of having five years ago.  And I knew I wouldn’t be waiting this out with a 7-11 burner.

I missed emails and important phone calls. I couldn’t remember where I was going because an address was in an email that I would have instinctively opened when I left the house. But that was in the Before Time, when time could be measured.

My carrier wanted to charge me $700 for a new phone, although I could get a new phone for $200 on another carrier.  They said that the early termination fee which was $250, but I noted that $200 + $250 is still less then what they were asking. The negotiation ended with a refurbished iPhone 4S $150. But they’d have to mail it, and it would take days.

In the meantime, I dug through some boxes and found an old, mostly unbroken phone. Along with an OG iPod nano! All I needed was to find an atlas, and bookbag to lug all this shit around and it would be like it was before “the incident”.

The phone still had all my old contacts and text messages in it. Filled with long-forgotten inside jokes, shared between people I now wouldn’t even want to look up on Facebook. I was going to dump new songs into my the old ipod, but instead just started to listen to what was on it. I loved that “Garden State” soundtrack. What a douche.

It is 2005 again and I am in possession of a very sad time machine. Especially with all the Decemberists songs.

How far things have come.

Technology, I mean.