Shattered Illusions

2023.03.29 by Josh Erb; 562 words.

On the first obviously Spring day of this year, during a lovely bike ride to Georgetown, I broke my phone. I was standing on a rocky patch of earth re-checking the address of my destination, when I needed to move my bike out of the way of a passing group. Holding my bike handle and phone proved to be too difficult. My grip failed and the phone flipped and fell screen-down onto two small rocks jutting up from the grown.

I knew it was broken before I bent down to pick it back up. It was one of those perfect falls that overcomes every improbability as it evades all of my protective measures. Had it landed on its corner, the case would have absorbed the shock. Had it not landed on the rocks but the adjacent patch of grass, the screen would have been unscathed. But no, a fall from that height, onto rocks jutting up out of uneven ground. The perfect trajectory and speed to crack it like an egg. I don't think I could have broken the screen this well if I had been purposefully trying.

Upon retrieving it, I discovered there was not one but two origins from which the interlocking cracks spread. The screen had fallen onto two rocks, one larger and protruding from the ground more significantly, and its shorter cousin about an inch away. The pattern in the black mirror had two pock marks to denote where it had absorbed the brunt of the force. One larger pock mark, about the size of pea. One smaller, but still noticeable, pock mark about an inch away. A network of cracks branched out from each of these two origins like the webs of two spiders frantically competing to build in the confined corner of a room.

At first, I was frustrated and embarrassed. I don't like to replace smartphones more than once every 5 models. This was phone was a 10 and the manufacturer still hasn't released the 15. If replace it now — which is likely, since I'm forever paranoid about slivers of glass embedding in my fingers as I swiped — then I'm going to screw up my rotation.

After some reflection, though, I've had an epiphany: the phone is now inescapably unique to me. These objects, or any of the gadgets made available to consumers these days, are mass produced and their uniformity is fetishized. Everyone who buys a smartphone receives the same sleekly designed object. But now the intricate network of cracks that crawl across my screen are entirely my own. They represent a fingerprint that can't be replicated anywhere else. The screen of my phone as it now exists can only exist because of the historical contingency of the moment I brought it with me and dropped it on those two rocks just so.

This uniqueness. This indelible connection of an object to the historical experience of its owner, is increasingly rare these days, I think. We prefer to sanitize everything to the point where it feels that it transcends our daily existence, that it resists the natural entropy of the universe. Of course, this is an illusion. And so I find myself thinking that I should appreciate it a little bit before I replace it and return to the bland sameness of a new phone.

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