Case Study: iPhones

What does your phone’s protective barrier say about you?

Photo: dungeon tiles/Flickr

I have this unshakable belief that if you don’t use a cell phone case for your iPhone, you like to play with fire. Think about this for half a second: the single most important instrument you carry with you every day is your phone. It’s a tool imbued with enormous emotional, practical, social meaning: it’s a compass, confidant, a therapist; and it’s as delicate as a newborn infant; built with glass and paper-thin metal. Carrying your phone with you everywhere is like is like toting around one of your grandmother’s prized porcelain hummels. You drop it, you’re stuck with bad karma, a cracked phone screen, or worse, the whole thing’s kaput.

When I see someone without a phone case enveloping their iPhone, I can’t help but a) feel nauseated, and b) wonder what kind of parent the phone’s beholder might be one day. I want to march right up and ask: Would you put your infant in a car without first fastening her to a car seat? Do you childproof your home with gates to block off stairwells, cover electrical outlets with those little pieces of plastic? Do you buckle up your bitty toddler in one of those jogger strollers before heading out for a run? (Once when my little sister was very young my mother forgot to buckle her in, and halfway down the street, splayed on the corner of traffic, fell my younger, teeny, sibling.)

Take a look around you on the subway: yes, everyone is googly-eye glued to their phones, thumbing away wildly, craving the split second when a few bars leap up with service, gingerly composing the next text message they can fire off above ground. Now scan the subway car again. This chick across the bench from you is holding up a phone that’s wrapped in a translucent, plastic sheath, punctuated by her very own collage of carefully arranged emoji stickers. Her nails rest against the back of the instrument, a dainty claw adding another layer of color to the personally curated mural she holds in her hand. You start to think about what this person is like. Who is she texting on her phone? What does she do for a living? Where did she grow up? The answers pop up in your mind. She’s responding to a friend who wants to meet her for coffee. Or a love interest who hasn’t texted her back in days. She is likely a creative, seems like she’s just out of college give or take 3 years. She’s from the city. No, she’s a student relocating from a small town on the other side of the country. No she’s totally European. Is not the cell phone case an outward manifestation of someone’s overall aura? Like people and their dogs, do they begin to resemble one another? There are a few archetypes I see crop up again and again and what I think their owners are like:

The Rugged Otterbox or Speck Hard-Shell Case
This is the kind of person who is capital “D” Down for Durability, likes consistency, and invests in things that have long-term use. Could be an outdoorsy person, probably a hiker, likes to stick with something that works, overall motto: function trumps design, like paper covers rock.

Plain Clear Case
Appreciates pure technological design, likes clean lines, maybe embraces “organic” universally with regards to diet, clothing materials, household cleaning supplies. Could be a quiet type. Also maybe lives in a glass house. (Yes, I mean an actual house made of glass.)

Design Your Own Case
Very visually astute. Cares about the particulars of details. Likely someone with encyclopedic knowledge of music history. Could be someone who, unlike myself, doesn’t have to think twice about what tattoos will go where on the bod.

Floating Sand and/or Glitter Case
This person is nostalgic for the seventies she never lived through. This is someone with great sense of humor, who enjoys crafts, and maybe was born during the Lisa Frank era. Most likely personality descriptor: “quirky” and works in the “arts”.

Credit-Card Easy Access Slot Case
Either a major college partygoer, Mommy-As-Executive on the move, or frequent flyer. Also, hey big spender.

Leather Case
A sensual character, probably has very good skin. Wants his/her phone case to mimic a complexion entirely devoid of free radicals and also never has dirt under their fingernails. The question we’re all asking when we see this person is: What does she know that I don’t?

Plain Black Case
Someone who also has no trace of visible logos on any of their clothes. Uses neutrals wisely.

Built-in Battery
This person texts you back before you’ve even pressed SEND. This person’s email inbox is rarely above (1). #nevernotworking

No Case
This person is literally a criminal in the wings. Hide your families from this person. Netflix has already optioned “Making a Murderer” Season 2, starring this human.

I have used a clear, plastic, super durable hard-shell case for two years that I bought at RadioShack for $9.99 which I gleefully adorned with two stickers of my choosing: one rainbow and one watermelon, both frayed at the edges and losing their adhesive. The kicker: my screen is hopelessly cracked anyways. Maybe that says I’m just all talk and a klutz for life. Even with a helmet on, I’m always tripping. Or maybe it says I wear my heart on my sleeve, imperfections in plain sight to all. I see one thing, but someone else sees another.

Amy Pedulla is a writer and radio producer living in Boston.