The App That Made Me Wish My Phone Were Dead

Photographed by Tayler Smith.

I’ve never wanted my iPhone’s battery to enter the dreaded red zone more than I did this past week. I waited impatiently, watching the power drop further and further, an occurrence that always seems to happen far too fast, except for this one time when I actually wanted it to plummet. I hadn’t charged my phone since the morning and had spent more time than usual that day watching Instagram Stories and checking email to try to wear it down. Finally, the moment arrived. My phone clung to a pathetic 5% battery life and I was at last, after hours of waiting, permitted to enter Die With Me.

The 99-cent app, created by a Belgian media artist and Canadian developer, has garnered media attention this past week for bringing a certain sense of excitement to a typically dreaded occurrence: A phone on the brink of death. It doesn’t hurt that battery strain is on the top of people’s minds following Apple’s battery controversy. But Die With Me does more than ride a recent news wave; it plays on a state of being that has evolved and intensified during the smartphone era. Think about it: Entire companies have formed with the sole purpose of creating portable charging devices just to keep your phone from dying on the go. Die With Me manages to subtly make fun of millennials' smartphone dependence, while also making it morbidly funny.

The app has only one parameter for entrance, but it is strictly adhered to: Your phone’s battery needs to be at or below 5%. Any higher — I tried, but 6% won’t cut it — and you will open Die With Me to a black screen displaying your current battery life in red, along with a brief sentence administering the 5% rule. In other words, you need to be at peak battery anxiety to get in.

When you’ve at last reached that point, take a deep breath and know that although smartphone death is near, you won’t be alone. After entering a screen name for yourself, you’re taken to a chatroom full of others who are also close to the end. The background is pitch black, and everyone who joins in the room’s conversation is identified first and foremost by their remaining battery percentage, which appears in a white box to the left of their comment; names and timestamps appear in smaller type below each comment.

Everyone seems to use the room in different ways. For some, it is, like many other social apps, a place to try to make connections elsewhere: During my time in the chatroom there were multiple requests for follows on Instagram and Snapchat. Others used it as a place to ponder tech questions, such as the poor battery life they’ve experienced since updating to the latest iOS. Some people threw out their location, while one person tried to use it as a makeshift Craiglist: “Im looking for a roomate in chicago any takers.” They later clarified “rents like 700 we can split it 50-50 and split utilities,” and they may have found a taker. Someone later chimed in, “im down @chicago person.”

If you are brokering apartment deals, there is a way to game the system and stay in the room indefinitely, or, at least, as long as you can stand having a low battery. When you start charging while in the room, the small, lightning-bolt icon will appear next to the timestamp below your comment. If you really wanted to, you could charge to 5%, then unplug to keep chatting and repeat the cycle as necessary, although this isn't the smartest longterm plan for your battery life.

But you may not need to worry about trying to remain in the room — I certainly didn't. After five minutes, I found myself getting bored. Once the trepidation passes, the novelty of Die With Me wears off, and reading middle school-grade potty jokes every other comment got old. (It’s the same sort of stream-of-internet-consciousness that flashes through HQ’s incessantly obnoxious chat section.) The exclusivity and transient nature of Die With Me draws people in, and then it enables people to say random things to random strangers. But between open mic night, fake panic performances, and the typical asks for follows, there ultimately wasn't much said that went beyond the ordinary. It's a mundane reflection of how we use smartphones in our daily lives.

One particularly active user who did make it to the end miraculously managed to stay alive a few minutes longer. Although they were at 0%, they continued talking, pondering when they would fall into the complete darkness of a dead phone. Or, as one person poetically theorized, “some people say you go to a big beautiful chat in the sky.”

Although the app’s lifespan may not last much longer than a phone at 5%, it is an interesting case study into what flashes through our minds during our last connected moments. After all, the people in the room aren't trying to do the one thing they need to do to keep their phones alive, they're just there to commiserate with others. As one user at 1% noted, “I love how this is what we type when our phones are about to die.”

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