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What's that smoke in your back pocket?

Some things can become so ubiquitous that they can almost become invisible. Like wallpaper, their omnipresence allows them to virtually disappear. Cellphones, for instance.

Many of their users, those in their 20s, may not even be able to remember a time when they were not ubiquitous. Like televisions, radios and wired phones before them, they seem as if they have always existed, and it only when we seem something in an old movie or TV show, like a phone booth, that reminds us that this product has not always existed.

The danger of ubiquity and our lack of awareness is that we may be lulled into a sense that this item never fails and is never a defective product, capable of causing us injury. 

Cellphones, especially with a voice controlled "intelligent person assistant," can become anthropomorphized to a degree that the user may fail to recognize that the item in their hands is an electronic device powered by a battery.

Electronic devices fail, and it is often caused by something going wrong with the battery. A girl in a school in Maine found out what this is like when her iPhone 5c apparently failed in her back pocket as she sat in a classroom.

Other students heard a popping sound and noticed she was engulfed in smoke. It quickly became clear the source of the smoke was her iPhone in her back pocket. She tried rolling on the floor to put out the fire, but her iPhone finally fell out as a "smoldering heap of plastic."

It is unclear what caused the fire in this case. Perhaps it was a latent defect in the battery in that particular phone. It could have been strain on the case from being sat on could have broken the battery and caused a short. 

Source: Geek, "iPhone 5C catches fire in child's back pocket causing severe burns," Russell Holly, February 3, 2014

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