If you dream of a whole day without your digital device at hand, you’re probably like a lot of people who feel their smartphone has taken over their attention span. The idea of a vacation from notifications, alerts, and constant refreshing can seem like an impossible fantasy. But what if someone forced you into a “no phone zone” for a few hours?
Phone-free spaces are virtually impossible to create, which is why the company Yondr has developed a physical system for locking down smartphones. The company’s mission is to “provide a haven to engage with what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with,” and it seems there is ample demand for their solution. Music venues, comedy clubs, schools, and court rooms have all partnered with Yondr to require people to place their digital life on pause. The technology is relatively simple but very effective: All phones are slipped into a sleeve and locked with Yondr’s proprietary key.
WIRED magazine profiled Yondr recently, and the piece raises a number of upsides and concerns. While the technology does force audiences to forego their urge to text, document, and share their real-time life with the networked world, it’s worth remembering that people are doing so willingly. What about situations where people could be forced to blind their devices against their will? When does a polite request for presence and mindfulness become a gag order on free speech? While Yondr’s solution protects performers from intellectual property infringement and may enhance in-person interaction, it could just as easily be used to prevent documentation of abuses of power.
The need for Yondr connects to a profound issue, however, and that is the way in which our devices have trained us to engage in automatic, addiction-like behaviors.
The Quest for Digital Detox
Now that the modern smartphone has been in society for a little more than a decade, we’re able to see beyond its obvious benefits and identify some of its social costs. We’re learning how interaction designers have learned to hijack our attention, and even come up with tricks to undo their magic.
While some may say we’ve unwittingly opened Pandora’s box, others see that we have an opportunity to adapt to our new power and opt-in to greater mindfulness. We’re even beginning to see investors flex their muscles in order to pressure companies like Apple to consider the impact of their ubiquitous devices.
NPR’s Morning Edition recently looked at how to power down in a wired world, and has a number of suggestions as to how identify device addiction as well as some solutions for cutting back.
At the core the issue is one of mindfulness. Are you compelled to look at your phone, even in conversations with others? Is your device interfering with your work, family time, or sleep? Have you noticed a downturn in your creativity? One particularly powerful piece of advice is the idea of a “Tech Shabbat,” a concept adapted from the Jewish Sabbath ritual day of rest.
While solutions like Yondr may help us curb our impulses, we should recognize that it is also a call to greater awareness. We are living into the adolescence of the smartphone age. As we mature, may we become more mindful of how we engage and what we share. While we cannot rewind the clock on innovation, we can learn to evolve alongside it.