It's cool to be cracked.
While they haven't started smashing their smartphones on purpose (or have they?), young people are turning their cracked cell phone screens into the latest in shabby chic. Or is that trashy tech?
Whatever it is, it's catching on as fast as torn T-shirts and ripped blue jeans. Once considered mortifying -- damage requiring immediate repairs or replacement -- the spider webs of a cracked smartphone screen increasingly are seen by teens and 20-somethings as inevitable badges of honor, cool battle scars that impart a kind of rough street cred in the mobile world.
"It's an accident when it drops, but nobody wants to pay the money to get it fixed," explained 18-year-old Kaitlyn Wilson of Liberty, Mo., who recently was visiting a Kansas City, Mo., Apple store. "So, whatever, you have a cracked phone. If you were the only person with a cracked screen, you would probably run out to get it fixed. But everybody else's is cracked, so why not leave it?
"Then Sharpie it, and make a design out of it on Pinterest."
"Color it in," said Ms. Wilson, a student at Maple Woods Community College. "I've had friends that tried to crack their screen on purpose so they could Sharpie it."
Others have used food coloring or nail polish to add color to the cracks.
"My phone was cracked for a long time, and then my friend's phone cracked, too, and she was like, 'Oh look! Look what happened!' " Ms. Wilson said. "You know, excited about it. She just didn't care to get it fixed."
Even young people who don't regard a cracked screen as cool aren't immediately seeking repairs, said Brett Butler, 18, who just graduated from Lathrop (Mo.) High School.
"After my friend dropped her phone and had it crack, she went five months before having it fixed," Mr. Butler said. "And then a week after getting it fixed, she dropped it and it cracked again. This time she decided she'd just leave it because it wasn't worth the hassle. It still worked, and she could still see her screen."
A cracked phone that still works can be meaningful, 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."
"A cell phone is their peer umbilical cord, their whole social life," he said. "But it's a fragile instrument. So in a way a cracked cell phone 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 them."
And an expression of individuality.
"The problem is all of these smartphones are pretty much the same," Mr. Bauerlein said. "The crack on the screen makes it unique."
Further, it shows the owner has "been around."
"Kids want to be cool and worldly and independent," he said. "Their beat-up cell phone shows that they're experienced. It gives them a kind of street cred."
But the trend comes with a caveat. Cracked screens are only cool if you have the means to fix them.
Ryan Arter, owner of Mission Repair, a cell phone repair business in Olathe, Kan., has seen the effects of the trend.
"My son cracked his screen and he said, 'Dad, look at how cool this is. I'm going to leave it this way,' " Mr. Arter said. "And he has a father who owns a business fixing these phones!
"I finally convinced him after a couple of weeks that there was danger to leaving it cracked. One, it can further crack, and shards of glass can go in your hands or your face. In addition, that screen protects the electronics inside the phone. If it's cracked, the ability for liquid or sweat to get in and further damage it is increased."
Meghan Reynolds, another teen with a cracked cell phone, isn't worried. "My contract's up in four months anyway" said the 17-year-old Overland Park, Kan., girl. "I'm just going to ride it out. And if I can be cool while doing it? Bonus!"