Cracked your phone? Don't fix it

The spider-like cracks are now seen as a mark of street cred and suggestions online include turning the back of the phone into a rainbow with coloured markers

Before I start, I must issue fair warning to readers: discussion of a very first-world problem up ahead.

Those with delicate sensitivities or an over-developed sense of moral superiority, please stop reading now and go back to posting long ranty diatribes on social media on how people should have better things to talk about.

It was not a question of if, but when.

About three weeks ago, I was getting out of the car in the morning when I heard something clatter to the ground.

At first, I thought I had dropped my car key. But as I looked down, it was the warm glow of my smartphone screen in the pre-dawn darkness that greeted me.

I picked it up immediately and put it in my pocket, hoping for the best.

But later, under the bright lights of the fast-food place I was having breakfast at, my heart sank as I surveyed the damage.

ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

Cracks on three of the four corners where, in the latest and greatest triumph of human ingenuity, the glass used to sexily fold around the edges.

Hairline fissures spreading across the left side of the once-beautiful 2960 x 1440, 570 ppi, HD+ OLED screen.

The first person I texted was my boss, who coincidentally dropped her phone (the exact same model) just the afternoon before.

Having used a case for the phone, hers survived its fall a little better. But she was clearly rattled as she ran her fingers over the cracked corner, flicking away the little shards of Gorilla glass that were flaking off.

"Geez," she replied to my text, adding with trademark efficiency: "Now I give you the very bad news.

"Called the service centre and, to my horror, found out: 1. It would take two to three days to repair. 2. It would cost $380 to $400 to repair. 3. I have to back up all my data as it would be all gone."

She appended not one, but three emoji - one each to express her respective level of dismay at the aforementioned points.

I sat there glumly, eating a meal so unhealthy it will soon be criminally outlawed by the Health Promotion Board.

We can structure complex boardroom deals, write fancy data-driven algorithms and engineer diplomatic solutions to secure world peace, but we are clearly not equipped to handle a crisis like this.

Then suddenly, the collective wisdom of a million motivational videos from management gurus hit me in a flash.

Change the paradigm, you dummy. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. DON'T fix the cracked screen. As the wildly popular "generation-defining" self-help guru Mark Manson puts it, who gives a f***?

After all, I know many millennials who walk around with a smashed phone screen, and most of them are quite cool.

Like the young guys in the office in the sockless loafers whom I suspect party even on Tuesdays.

Or Sidney, the mysterious and drop-dead gorgeous young female barista in the new Netflix series Gypsy, who sings in a band that sounds like cult heroes Mazzy Star.

In fact, cracked phone screens - with their dramatic spider-like patterns creeping across the glass - are emerging as a new marker of street cred among the young.

On one level, it signals that the user is outgoing and engages in the sort of activities that puts his or her smartphone in constant peril.

After all, the smartphone is now an extension of one's personality and physical body and a cracked screen hints at holidays spent hiking or biking, mornings doing circuit training or mixed martial arts, and nights out taking drunken selfies in crowded bars and clubs.

But on another level, it's an expression of individuality for a new generation which has made defining and asserting one's identity the key currency of life's success.

"The problem is all of these smartphones are pretty much the same. The crack on the screen makes it unique," says 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.

"A cracked cellphone that still works means, 'Hey, my phone may have hit the ground, but it's a survivor.' And by extension, the phone's owner is a survivor, too, because it's a reflection of him."

Intrigued, I decided to skip the gym and spend the next half hour online investigating the cracked-screen phenomenon.

There are fascinating YouTube videos teaching cracked-screen victims how to "Sharpie" their phones.

Sharpie is a popular brand of coloured permanent markers. In three minutes, a cracked white smartphone can be turned into a hippy, trippy rainbow wonder.

"Draw all over the back of the phone where it's cracked," says Laila, a British video blogger, enthusiastically. "It doesn't matter if you go outside the lines, just as long as you get the ink right under the cracks so it can really settle in!"

Wait, but what if you are a boring old corporate executive who stays at home mostly to watch Netflix and your smartphone isn't cracked?

Simple, just download any number of cracked screen wallpapers available for your phone.

They're available in HD for any screen size and there are apps in both the App Store and Google Play store that will automatically cycle wallpapers. Just imagine, every day a freshly cracked phone screen!

Okay, I will admit to being facetious and nasty here.

Smartphones are expensive and, these days, the high-end models are pricier than many laptop computers. So, many young people with cracked screens don't replace them or buy new phones simply because they cannot afford to.

But the whole exercise demonstrated the clear generation gap that exists between Generation X-ers like me and the new millennial generation.

There are an equal number of surveys out there that show that people regard cracked phone screens as uncool.

An annual survey by Match.com of singles in America showed that a whopping 86 per cent of women - especially Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers - are more likely to negatively judge a man for having a cracked screen.

Growing up at a time when consumerism was on the rise, Generation X-ers are also very quick to spend money and replace anything as soon as it is broken, whereas the new generation is more careful about recycling and adaptive reuse.

By lunchtime, I had decided where I stand on the issue.

Glass was peeling off the corners and the cracks had deepened as I read and replied to e-mail on my phone.

I decided I would take a leaf from both my generation and the one after.

I would buy a new phone, but also repair the cracked one, reselling it after it is fixed so it could have a new life. Perhaps it could be a low-cost saviour for someone in the same boat as me.

But this time, I would buy a phone case. Definitely a phone case.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Cracked your phone? Don't fix it'. Print Edition | Subscribe