For the young, mobile phones are not all they're cracked up to be

Nothing gives you more street cred than a screen that looks like it's been around the block

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

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

Sure, the screen's razory shards make reading a text and posting Instagram photos super blurry, even 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 or low-riding jeans. Unwashed hair. Unshaven faces.

While the blanket-of-broken-glass look infuriates many parents some young people say it gives you a sort of street cred, like you've been through some real-life stuff.

"It's this total trend, because it's not like we're rushing out to get them fixed," smirks Lofton, 23, who works at the Barnes & Noble in Bethesda, Maryland, a favourite hangout. "A cracked screen is, like, this really cool scar."

"Plus, it's a great conversation starter," chimed in friend and coworker 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 spoof, well, it is.

"The iPhone 5C, the best new iPhone since you broke your last iPhone. It's the phone you love, just broken," says the video that 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 graduates in psychology, said they see cracked screens as a "form of self-expression".

A variation of the cracked front screen is the broken back cover, which can be tricked out by colouring in the cracks.

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 Jeopardises Our Future.

"If you're low-income and 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, a self-described grumpy old man.

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

"It survived," Bauerlein said. "And that extends to you. You're a worldly survivor."