An iBacklash Builds Against iPhone, Spawning a Smash-Up Hit on YouTube

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

A 24-year-old computer repairman in Miami, Rob V. Burr, stumbled onto YouTube stardom last weekend after applying a hammer to a brand new iPhone and breaking it into several pieces. His 59-second opus, “iPhone Smashed,” has gotten almost 400,000 page views. That’s huge.

“I had no idea it would be a hit,” Mr. Burr (known on YouTube as “thatnimrod”) told me the other evening, after discovering the ancillary market in fame for anyone who dares to demolish something as precious as a $600 iPhone. “I just put it up there, and figured people might like to see what’s inside one of those things.” Mr. Burr takes pains to point out that it wasn’t his phone — there’s a long, dull story behind the genesis of his experiment — but the results speak for themselves: It’s great fun to watch America’s newest and most expensive toy get destroyed.

It turns out, if you go searching for similar videos, that YouTube watchers take considerable pleasure in the destruction of technology; it’s some bizarre mash-up of progress and pornography, aligned with the odd addiction some of us have to the crunching of metal on film. (Anyone who spent last weekend watching “Live Free or Die Hard” knows exactly what I mean.) But it’s more than that; in an era when Apple now dominates the delivery of culture, we can’t help being angry with ourselves for wanting to feed that corporate monster with our hard-earned cash.

We may lust after the iPhone, but we don’t want to spend $600 and succumb to marketing over substance. We want the patience to wait a year for the price to go down, and the quality to go up. If Steve Jobs is iGod, as New York Magazine so cleverly put it a couple of weeks ago, then iPhone buyers are disciples of his de facto church. Not everyone wants to be that, which explains the instantaneous — and growing — backlash against Mr. Jobs and his latest invention. It may be the ultimate merger of the computer and the telephone (“It’s sweet,” Mr. Burr told me, referring to the still-unsmashed iPhone he bought for his personal use). But it’s also a symbol of wretched excess in a world where millions of people don’t even have food, let alone a phone.

This isn’t to suggest that Apple wants people to starve or suffer. No doubt Mr. Jobs donates much of his wealth to good causes, and we all recall the singular devotion of Apple to providing computers to schools at epic discounts. But he also feeds on addiction and indulgence. It seems a safe bet that no one bought an iPhone last week as a first cell phone; for the vast majority, it replaces a perfectly good piece of equipment that now goes into the recycling bin. Most Americans — those of us still without the gorgeous new iPhone, or even a bulky BlackBerry — somehow manage to make it through a day without reading email at the dentist, watching episodes of “Lost” on the subway, or downloading music in the Lexus.

But sadly, Mr. Jobs correctly calculated that plenty of Americans were ready to part with $600 for the chance to toy with his pocket-size vision of the future, at stores now — even if they didn’t want it, need it, or like it much. On Slate this week, a Washington writer named Reihan Salam extolled the virtues of owning an iPhone (he described it as “intuitive and rad”) even though the switch from Verizon to AT&T, the iPhone’s service provider, left him with static. “I often wear slim-fitting pants,” Mr. Salam wrote alarmingly of a crucial fringe benefit to owning the sleek device. He confessed feeling so much affection for Mr. Job’s company that he’d recently begun eating actual apples.

Apparently, hundreds of thousands share Mr. Salam’s blind devotion to Mr. Jobs’s vision; if you want an iPhone today for list price, rumor has it there are a few left for sale in Albuquerque. If anything, iPhone mania portends even more such moments in the future; no backlash will ever outweigh our culture’s appetite for whatever Mr. Jobs (or his equivalent in the development of television sets, refrigerators, and anything else that gets plugged in) has to offer. Those remaining holdouts who hate progress — the Luddites who disdain blogs, e-mail, and iPods as tools of destruction — need to find a new hopeless cause to embrace.

Still, there’s hope in the fascination we seem to have in Mr. Burr’s hit YouTube video. The sight of a brand-new iPhone smashed to bits shows that our culture still has a sense of perspective and humor about the madness of technology. If Mr. Burr brings his hammer down on every new product that lands within our reach, then we’ll have an instantaneous reminder of its fallibility, and our own.

The New York Sun

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