On a recent evening outside a San Fernando Valley movie theater, a young man startled passersby when he hurled his cellphone onto the sidewalk. As he sheepishly picked up the pieces, he apologized and said he was having a bad day.
It turns out he's not the only one to transform a smartphone into a missile. Driven by impulse, it seems a lot of people are texting and tossing.
"It's one of these behaviors that express frustration, anger or irritability that is simply easy, because we have a phone in our hands most of the time," says Emanuel Maidenberg, director of the UCLA Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Clinic.
Repair shops see a steady flow of smashed phones. Psychologists observe patients toting damaged devices. The trend has even made its way onto a popular singer's new album.
"Everyone does it," says Beatris Yeranosian, 20, a student at Valley College who has thrown her phone "many times"; she tries to aim at a soft surface.
"You don't want to break the phone, but I want to release what I feel," she says, "… get rid of the anger."
Another Valley College student, Kristine Grigoryan, 19, says she too has flung her phone in response to a hurtful cellphone exchange.
"I think it shows how texting has such a huge impact on a person," says Grigoryan. "I feel like the stuff people text they wouldn't have the courage to say to your face."
Technicians concur that phone tossing has become more common, despite the costly consequences of crash landings. (A cracked screen is not covered by warranty.)
"Sometimes they come in and say, 'My boyfriend threw my phone,' or 'I got angry and I threw my phone at the wall,'" says Peter Kay, manager of the repair shop DialNet on Melrose Avenue.
Calabasas clinical psychologist Christopher Fulton says he has noticed teenage patients holding phones with damaged screens. When he asks what happened, often they will admit to having thrown the phone.
Typically, the trigger is a text from a boyfriend or girlfriend. Or it might be a parent. In the past, teens might have slammed a door.
Although such an outburst can be alarming, it's usually within the realm of normal teenage behavior. Fulton explains: "They don't have as much of an ability to face consequences and to control themselves. They have a higher likelihood of saying and doing things that they later regret."
But adults are engaging in phone abuse too. The practice shows up on the new Netflix series "House of Cards," when a powerful teachers union lobbyist loses his cool after a contentious call and hurls a phone across the room.
Sometimes phones are aimed at human targets. An extreme example was supermodel Naomi Campbell, who famously got in legal trouble both for throwing her phone and for pummeling people with it.
Taylor Swift also discloses a phone-flinging episode in her song "Stay Stay Stay": "I'm pretty sure we almost broke up last night. I threw my phone across the room at you." The object of her aggression/desire returns ready to talk, wearing a football helmet.
The song treats the subject lightheartedly, but attack by cellphone can result in cuts, chipped teeth or an eye injury. James E. Baker, an emergency physician at Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center, recently stitched up a mom who was hit by her daughter's cellphone. (Coincidentally, the incident occurred during an argument about the girl's nonstop texting.)
"In this case, our patient's upper lip was smashed against her teeth, causing the laceration," says Dr. Baker, adding that when thrown with force, a cellphone can indeed become a weapon. (He pointed out, however, that "distracted walking" injuries are much more common.)