It's time to stop freaking out every time a phone catches fire

Lithium-ion batteries catch fire. It's time we all learn to deal with it.

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Hot take (literally): phones and laptops catching fire are generally not a big deal—at least not as big as people seem to think they are. Incidents of rechargeable batteries catching fire are unfortunate and they are dangerous, but we should all really stop freaking out about them.

Lithium-ion batteries, like the gas tank in your car, contain an enormous amount of potential energy. Under the right circumstances (or the wrong ones, depending on your proximity and love of pyrotechnics), they can heat up, expand, catch fire, and even explode.

Samsung Note 7 Infographic
Credit: Samsung
Samsung's infographic explains the technical failures that led to the Note 7's woes.

This is super scary! But it happens under such specific and infrequent circumstances that losing our collective minds every time one gets caught on video isn't a great long-term solution. Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere, and often enclosed inside of electronics like smartphones and laptops where they are sandwiched between heat-generating components. Eventually, some small number of them are going to have problems.

One reading of this situation is that it is A Recipe For Disaster! But just like it's (generally) safe for you to drive around at high speeds with a tank of flammable liquid strapped to the bottom of your car, when engineers are allowed to do their jobs, the risks posed by these batteries are relatively minor.

Of course, sometimes engineers aren't allowed to do their job, or there are unforeseen issues with a battery part. This is what happened with the recent debacle with the twice-recalled Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Samsung recently released its report on exactly why two different battery parts used in the Note 7 became so prone to failure, as well as a new 8-point safety check to ensure this doesn't happen again. While the main conclusion there is that Samsung and its suppliers screwed up, the important part is that these kinds of defects are not only detectable, they are reasonably preventable if the right security checks are in place.

Of course, that doesn't seem to stop people from freaking out every time a phone catches on fire now. Just recently there was a firestorm after a Twitter user posted video of her iPhone catching fire.

Before the iPhone's owner set her tweets to protected, the video had over 2.2 million views, as well as thousands of retweets and likes. Though you can't see the original tweet now, it became a viral hit, all because one phone reportedly suffered a major problem out of nowhere—one phone out of millions.

Sure, it's a spectacular way for a phone to go out, and it's clearly dangerous—especially since your best bet is to douse these fires if at all possible—but it's still an incredibly rare incident. I doubt you'd see quite the same reaction over video of an overheating car catching fire. Worth telling your friends about? Sure. Worth millions of views on Twitter? Not so much.

Of course, the never-ending Android vs iPhone debate is fueling at least a little bit of the traffic behind this video. Android users certainly didn't pass up the opportunity to thumb their noses at Apple fans:

And while stuff like that is all in good fun, and the general public should be aware of the dangers that Lithium-ion batteries can pose, we should also try to remain sane and balance the positives and the negatives of rechargeable batteries (ha!) even if a few of them break down in terrifying fashion.

In general, there are two times when it is perfectly acceptable to freak out over phone fires: when it is part of an unprecedented design failure leading to a massive, worldwide recall, and when it's your phone. Otherwise, let's cool it with the battery madness, folks.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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