The panic of a dead phone

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A couple of years ago, a family in Canada decided to spend a full year living like it was 1986, boxing up their iPhones and other assorted iAppendages in favor of a VCR, a rotary phone and, like, a stack of of Peter Cetera cassettes. Blair McMillan said that he was disturbed by how ultra-connected his two kids had gotten and how much time they spent on their phones, so he basically grounded the entire family by eliminating modern conveniences, making time to see their friends in person and getting super proficient at folding paper maps. It sounded awful.

I thought about McMillan last week when I was forced to endure 24 long hours without my phone after it randomly offed itself when I was at the gym. On my way out of the weight room, I reached into my bag and my phone was completely unresponsive and disturbingly hot to the touch — which is also how I would’ve described myself at the time. I took it home and did a hard reset (on both of us) and, when that didn’t work, I started to frantically Google things like “WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY IPHONE,” “CAN U DIE WITHOUT UR PHONE” and “OH GOD WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MY HANDS NOW?”

Then I had an unsatisfying online chat with an Apple service representative, who kept sending me phone numbers so I could schedule an appointment to get it repaired.

“Okay, but my phone is dead,” I typed repeatedly. “I can’t make any calls.”

“Thank you, Jelisa,” she’d reply. “Here’s the phone number you requested.”

I logged off and gave up, wondering whether I could survive the rest of the night. I couldn’t call anyone in case there was some kind of emergency. I didn’t have an alarm clock, because I use my phone for that, too. And, most importantly, what would happen to the 111-day Snapchat streak my sister and I had constructed? (This is my proudest accomplishment to date. Who’s the quitter now, High School Guidance Counselor?)

The next day, I went to see one of Winston-Salem’s official Apple repair technicians, arriving late because I couldn’t find the building and DIDN’T HAVE A PHONE TO GIVE ME DIRECTIONS. I walked in and tried to keep my voice steady when I told him what had happened. “Have you tried pressing the power button?” he asked. “To turn it back on?”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I have.”

He didn’t believe me, taking my phone and pressing the power button, hard. He pressed it again, shaking his head this time. Needless to say, he couldn’t help. (And the only reason I didn’t roundhouse kick him right in the nametag was because I needed him to print directions from there to the Apple Store.)

The Apple Store at Friendly Center in Greensboro is like any other Apple Store, which means that it’s always packed and understaffed by approximately 50 percent, which makes it feel like some kind of psychological experiment about patience. There was a line in front of a man in an ill-fitting, green Apple T-shirt — one of many men in ill-fitting, green Apple T-shirts — and I had to wait behind a 700-year-old woman who was trying to remember her email password.

“I just need you to tell me what it is,” she said, smoothing the pleats on her pants. “I need to do my emails.”

Mr. iShirt typed something on his iPad. “Ma’am, that’s something you set up yourself,” he told her without looking up. “Maybe it’s a child’s name? A grandchild? A pet?”

“Yes, a pet’s name would be good,” she said, seconds before crumbling to dust. “Could we use that?”

He somehow got her to wander off to the far corner of the store and I gave him my name and told the entire story for the second time in the same hour. I was told to wait at a sleek, frosted-glass table until one of the store’s Geniuses got free, which was scheduled to happen sometime between 4:30 and when the Earth crashes into the sun. After staring at my own cuticles forever, I finally met with a very friendly tech-support dude who said yes, my phone was fried and no, he didn’t need to press the power button even once.

As I stared at its illuminated Apple logo, I felt like a less attractive Narcissus beside a digitized pond.

They issued me a new phone and, as I stared at its freshly illuminated Apple logo, I felt like a less attractive Narcissus beside a digitized pond. (And, much like Narcissus, I’m pretty sure I’ll look at it until I die.) That isn’t much of a stretch — or a metaphor — because my entire life is in that phone. As my new device restored itself from a backed-up version of my old one, the past decade reassembled itself in my hand: The pictures of my now-late dog and the now-late furniture he destroyed. The texts from almost-forgotten exes that I keep out of some sense of misguided sentimentality. My workout logs, my deadlines, old boarding passes, new contacts and that 15-week Snapchat streak.

On the way out of the store, I punched my home address into Google Maps. I sat at dinner, scrolling through everything I missed while I blindly forked bits of chicken into my mouth. I read a piece about how Donald Trump might’ve been relieved of his own phone during James Comey’s testimony. And, for the first time ever, I felt sorry for him.