How the 4 iPhones I've Owned Mirror the Ups and Downs of My Life

The author using a cracked iPhone 5C to take a selfie.

Despite 10 years of improvements and tweaks to the original iPhone – which first came out in 2007 – its charging cord still frays and the battery still doesn’t last an entire day. While these two aspects of the iPhone drive most people crazy, I like to think of them as a bigger metaphor for what it’s like growing up with an iPhone while trying to become a semifunctioning adult: messy, sometimes stressful, and imperfect.

I’ve been using an iPhone myself since 2008, and as the iPhone’s changed throughout the years, so have I. I went from a wallflower who made sure my iPhone 3G was pristine and protected to an about-to-be-unemployed college senior with a cracked iPhone to now: an adult who still hasn’t grown up and who constantly drops my iPhone 6S.

The author’s iPhone 3G taking photos back in 2008.

The iPhone 3G Era (2008-2009): Coming Out of My Shell

I can still remember dragging my dad to the AT&T store in 2008 and buying the singularly most expensive and important thing I owned at the small age of 17: an iPhone 3G. He’s an Apple fanboy, so he was OK with it (and after all, it was my money). Goodbye, phone with a keyboard. Hello, fancy iPod that can also make phone calls! I got my iPhone during the peak of the Blackberry craze, when all my friends were using Blackberry Messenger and I was existing in a world of green message bubbles. It was part of me finally deciding to do something on my own instead of following sheep mentality. I didn’t hold onto to that iPhone I bought in September for very long; it was stolen in November. I first bought a Blackberry Pearl, thinking I could adjust to it, but I soon returned it and got another iPhone 3G.

Looking back, I don’t know what a 17-year-old could possibly be doing with a smartphone (spoiler alert: it involved racking up a text messaging bill that my dad probably still remembers). But I do remember it helping me get out of my wallflower zone as a high schooler and taking random photos of my friends that I still enjoy looking back on.

The author’s friends in college, shot on a iPhone 3GS.

The iPhone 3GS Era (2009-2013): Photos Everywhere

My iPhone 3GS was my most guarded accessory because it held some of my most important memories (and still does to this day). Sure, I’d still use my pocket camera, but I left it behind more. To me, the iPhone made it easier to take photos of candid moments without anyone feeling pressure to look poised and perfect. It was messy – just like my life in college. During those days, where everyone tells you how young you are and how it’ll never feel like that again, I became an obsessive photographer. That phone holds some of my life’s most tender moments: a friend’s first Broadway play in NYC, a spontaneous cuddle puddle, my now-ex-boyfriend’s architecture drawings, and photos of my college best friends in the dining hall.

The most defining characteristic of my iPhone 3GS was the phone protector I put on the back. It was completely reflective, serving as a mirror – or in my college days, an excellent way to slyly look around and observe. Of course, it was a perfect accessory to have when it came to taking selfies and making sure no food was stuck in my teeth. My dad still uses that iPhone sometimes as a defunct iPod, but soon I’ll recycle it. Like college, all good things must come to an end.

The pink iPhone 5C whose screen didn’t last very long.

The iPhone 5C Era (2013-2016): Cracked and Embracing It

My pink iPhone 5C’s screen cracked within a week of me buying it. I had just finished my last paper of college and set my phone down for a second only for it to fall onto a cast-iron skillet. Since it had a screen protector, the glass stayed in place and it still worked. But I should’ve know then that it was a bigger metaphor of what my life was going to look like after college. I was about to be a broke, unemployed college graduate with no job lined up, so the idea of fixing the iPhone screen was out of the question. So off I went into the real world, into interviews where I hid my phone upon arriving, afraid they wouldn’t take me seriously with my cracked iPhone. In my first journalism internship, I conducted an in-person interview with that cracked iPhone in full view on the desk – I didn’t realize it until 10 minutes in, when I slowly turned my phone over and hoped they hadn’t noticed.

But that pink iPhone 5C made it through with me during my various internships, a move across the country, a move back across to the East Coast, and then a final, permanent move to California. I had it during interviews, while note taking, and during some of the loneliest moments in my 20s. It became a lifeline to my friends and family back on the East Coast when I felt lonely in San Francisco and was the quickest way to find something to do with the new friends I was making. My iPhone 5C wasn’t perfect, but neither was I. It kept working for four years with its cracked screen and it held me up while I struggled to find my footing in my 20s.

The author’s iPhone 6S is still perfect for taking selfies.

The iPhone 6S Era (2016-Present): Am I Grown Up Yet?

I left behind my iPhone 5C and joined the world of Touch ID in January 2016. I no longer use a screen protector for my phone; instead, I use a durable (but fun!) phone case. I drop it constantly but don’t worry too much about what would it happen if the screen cracked. (I’m also no longer an intern working three jobs, so the cost of replacing a cracked iPhone isn’t as scary as it used to be.) After all, once you own a cracked iPhone for four years, you know you can make another crack last a while too. It currently has a glitter iPhone case on it, because, while I am getting older, I’m nowhere close to having my life together.

I’m also now a tech reporter and I’ve reviewed the iPhone SE, 7, and 7 Plus, a future I never saw coming in my early days of owning one. The idea of telling 21-year-old me with a cracked iPhone 5C that I’d somehow get to attend the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and review iPhones for a living still feels like a big joke.

My mom now also has an iPhone, and it’s made living on opposite coasts a little easier. The simple act of texting her or sending a GIF through iMessage make my day. Our blue iMessage text bubbles make it all feel a little more personal. It’s a gift I never knew I needed from technology, but I’m glad I have it.

I don’t know if I’ll ever switch from an iPhone (though the Pixel truly makes me want to). It’s stuck by me for all these years and seen my best and worst selfies – why give up on it now?

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How the 4 iPhones I've Owned Mirror the Ups and Downs of My Life

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