With a new tech gadget, particularly one made by Apple, I feel an overwhelming urge to keep it pristine, to the point where it is almost a mania. I want its resale value to be as high as possible, sure, but I also tend to view my Apple kit as art or jewelry. Let the kid play his Curious George app on the wife’s iPad. Mine’s not gonna come near his grubby, sharp-nailed fingers.
And a small defect can be so disheartening. A minor scuff on the side? Disgusting, a real bummer. A tiny, fraction-of-a-millimeter length scratch on the screen, barely perceivable except at certain awkward angles? I want to throw it out and cry.
But it’s silly because, first, it’s not jewelry, it’s a tool. And second, the world happens. Life happens. Matter interacts with matter and to drive yourself nuts trying to keep something you use all the time from showing any signs of use is futile.
I think of this because I think I tend to view my projected self in the same way. Not that I see myself as a “jewel,” god knows, but that whatever thin veneer of likability I believe myself to have online, with coworkers, family, etc., I treat very delicately. I fear, all the time, a scratch. A scratch, in my mind, is the same as a wholesale collapse or disintegration. One person doesn’t like me? I think I’ve fallen down a notch in someone’s eyes? Then I must, as a whole, be worthless. Like an iPhone with a scratched screen.
This, too, is silly.
So let’s turn this around.
The iPhone 5 is arguably the nicest looking phone on the market, one of the most beautiful products Apple’s ever made. I got the white one because, goddamn it, I liked the old white iPods and iBooks, and that’s what means Apple to me.
But it took a couple of spills, of course. I didn’t even realize it until well after a particular drop, but the metal border around the phone has now taken on some rough scuffing, and the glass near the front camera has a centimeter-long scratch. There are some other smaller things, too.
At first, it was deeply disappointing. So much so, I just had to let it go, lest I misuse energy I couldn’t spare to rail against Lady Fortune in good terms.
And then, I decided I kind of liked it. It made what was the perfect carbon copy of all the other iPhones-5 unique. This was mine. And it told a little story: the story of Paul and his digital and daily life, which includes this tool and how he screws up sometimes and drops it in the garage. (I didn’t say it was a compelling story.)
Use, especially in the finer things, adds character. I know it’s not apples to apples (no pun intended), but look at things like musical instruments. If it’s half-decent, it will improve with age and use. You don’t want to put a hole in your guitar or crease the bell of your trumpet (yes I’ve done both of those things), but if you do, okay, you fix it as best you can, within reason, and now that’s just what your instrument is like. This scuffed, imperfect white rectangle is now what my iPhone is like, and it’s still great, and it’s mine.
What if someone disses me? What if someone doesn’t like me? What if I’ve genuinely made a mistake and someone notices? I am scuffed. I am scratched. I might as well be thrown out.
Or: It’s part of my story. If I’m broken, I try to fix myself as best I can, make amends, take stock, knowing that the patch over the hole is now part of my story. It will always be part of the sound of my instrument. It doesn’t mean I’m bad, that I’m garbage, it just changes things a little. But I have to keep using the tools that do work, taking advantage of the qualities of me, the instrument, the gadget, that remain strong. Make the best of the wounds, the breaks, the scuffs.
Not everyone will like the sound, not everyone will like how I as a device function. That’s also part of the story, part of the character. We are not only the sum of our parts, but we are the story of the parts we don’t have, the parts that have been damaged, the parts that have been fixed, and also the folks who refuse to play us.
But I still work. Flawed, but functional, and seasoning with each impact, each event.