Protection & compensation

In the above photo, a friend from Guangdong, China has swathed his cellphone in the folds of a miniature FedEx truck – ostensibly for protection. Although an otherwise “throwaway” corporate freebie, when I inquire as to why he uses it, he says he enjoys this object not for its protective properties (about which he doesn’t particularly care, as reflected by the spiderwebbing cracks spanning the face of his phone that he’s gotten from “dropping it a lot”), but for how it enables him to instantly see who is calling while seated at his desk. Upon receiving a call, he need only glance laterally away from his computer screen to identify who is calling. Compare this to when his phone rings while out on the street; he must first recognize that someone is calling, dig the phone out of his pocket to identify the caller, and finally decide whether the moment is an appropriate one to take the call.


This recalls a similar solution, albeit addressed with fewer resources, observed in the vehicle cab of an interviewee in Yunnan, China. This driver uses his vehicle to transport heavy payloads of rocks and sand, and when I asked why he stored his cellphone in a repurposed Nongfu Springs water bottle (once again assuming the behavior stemmed from his perceived need to protect his phone). As we talk, he’s parked in a queue of several other agricultural vehicles waiting to have a load of gravel deposited into their rear bed, and upon hearing my question he shouts, “Listen to this!” and stabs his foot down on the gas pedal, eliciting an angry roar from the uncovered diesel engine thrumming away on the front of his vehicle. “How could I possibly hear my phone if it is in my pocket when I am going down the road with this loud engine?” When I ask if he can feel the phone’s vibrating function, he laughs. “The vibrating [of the] phone is nothing compared to the vibrating in my bones as I am driving over these (unpaved) roads!” Proud of his water-bottle-to-cellphone-holder hack, he later had me call his phone while we trundled down a dirt road on the way to deliver a load of gravel. Sure enough, the phone remains audible over the screaming diesel, as it competes with the vehicle’s own unique symphony of rattles and shudders.

Consider the ways cellphones are protected in your context (whether a given solution is bought, gifted, or improvised). Within that, note whether the means of protection also enhance/compensate for particular functions of the phone, and whether opportunities to improve the phone’s design are baked in to the means of protection.

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