Dave Johnson recounts gadget disasters submitted by readers. This is the transcript of Dave's original audio commentary. You can listen to that here.
I've been known to use this decidedly high-tech excuse when I miss my editor's deadline: "I wrote the article, but I dropped it and it broke." That's not the sort of thing that you could have gotten away with saying ten years ago -- and if truth be told, it's not exactly A-list material even today -- but it's an indication that the gadgets we rely on every day are perhaps a bit fragile.
Damaging your PDA or cell phone is no laughing matter. But then again, when done right, it can be pretty funny. Take M, from Florida, who recounts this story: "One of our detectives was on call over the weekend. While burning brush from one of our recent hurricanes, she tossed an armload of debris on the fire only to watch her brand new Nextel cell phone fly into the heart of the raging brush fire. As it lay melting in full view, it started to ring with an incoming call."
When we asked readers for stories of gadget disasters last month, I didn't expect to see quite so many that involved the toilet. Yet story after story included a phone, a bathroom, and a flush gone wrong. Like Mark, from Delaware, who appears to be a modern everyman in tales of rest room catastrophe. He says, "I used to have a habit of removing my belt by grabbing the buckle and whipping it off. One evening, I flushed at the same instant that I whipped the belt off. I had forgotten to remove my pager, which promptly flew off the belt and got lodged deep in the toilet. It began beeping, as if crying for help. To make matters worse, the plumber was unable to dislodge the pager, and he had to break the toilet to remove it -- which was dead by the time it was extracted.
Gadgets end up in the strangest places. Steve says that his grandson threw his phone into the family aquarium. A slew of folks claim to have sent PDAs, phones, and flash memory cards through the washer and dryer (sometimes with no ill effects). There's even one account of a cell phone that fell into a waste treatment plant. And here's a little tip for everyone out there: a device might survive getting wet, as long as you let it dry completely before you try to use it again. And by let it dry, I mean dry naturally. Else, like Scott from Switzerland, you might make things worse. He says: "My sister knocked her phone into the toilet, put it in the oven to dry it out, and forgot about it. She was reminded of the phone when she noticed the smell of hot plastic. Now she has a fantastic sculpture phone worthy of Salvador Dali!
As if those stories aren't bad enough, sometimes it just seems like the gods conspire against us. Who would expect their laptop to simply burst into flames? But that's exactly what happened to Jeff, from Massachusetts. "I was conducting an interview," he says. "While reading the first question, my laptop suddenly went dead as the power supply caught on fire!" The interviewee was apparently pretty quick on his feet, says Jeff -- he extinguished the laptop. That didn't help the data therein, which was a total loss. Also, no word on whether the guy got the job.
It isn't always the hand of God -- sometimes the culprit is much closer to home. My favorite dead-gadget story comes from Melody in Texas. She tells me that her toddler, a vivacious little girl by the name of Sadie, destroyed two cell phones in a single week.
Episode one: the toddler seized the handset and dumped it into a watering can. Melody knew just what to do. She immediately ordered a replacement phone, which arrived the next day. The next evening, Melody took a call during Sadie's bath time. That was a mistake, since Sadie decided to see what happens when you flush a phone. The week cost $495--$320 in cell replacements, and another $175 in plumber's fees.