The Fantastic Life

Step Away From the Phone!


Here comes the backlash to being on your phone when you are with other people.  There are some great ideas below for dinners and conversations without the phone interrupting you.  Enjoy.



The Fantastic Life Rule #18: Do Nothing in Moderation
Even when it comes to your social life, giving someone or something half of your attention is a lose/lose situation. When you give your time – give it fully.


Step Away From the Phone!

In “phone stack,” first one to sneak a look pays. Michael Carl, second from left.

Whenever Michael Carl, the fashion market director at Vanity Fair, goes out to dinner with friends, he plays something called the “phone stack” game: Everyone places their phones in the middle of the table; whoever looks at their device before the check arrives picks up the tab.

Brandon Holley, the former editor of Lucky magazine, had trouble ditching her iPhone when she got home from work. So about six months ago, she began tossing her phone into a vintage milk tin the moment she walked in. It remains there until after dinner.

And Marc Jacobs, the fashion designer, didn’t want to sleep next to a beeping gizmo. So he banned digital devices from his bedroom, a house rule he shared with audiences during a recent screening of “Disconnect,” a film that dramatizes how technology has alienated people from one other.

As smartphones continue to burrow their way into our lives, and wearable devices like Google Glass threaten to erode our personal space even further, overtaxed users are carving out their own device-free zones with ad hoc tricks and life hacks.

Whether it’s a physical barrier (no iPads at the dinner table) or a conceptual one (turn off devices by 11 p.m.), users say these weaning techniques are improving their relationships — and their sanity.

“Disconnecting is a luxury that we all need,” said Lesley M. M. Blume, a New York writer who keeps her phone away from the dinner table at home. “The expectation that we must always be available to employers, colleagues, family: it creates a real obstacle in trying to set aside private time. But that private time is more important than ever.”

Much of the digital detoxing is centered on the home, where urgent e-mails from co-workers, texts from friends, Instagram photos from acquaintances and YOLO updates on Facebook conspire to upend domestic tranquillity.

A popular tactic is to designate a kind of cellphone lockbox, like the milk tin that Ms. Holley uses. “If my phone is buzzing or lighting up, it’s still a distraction, so it goes in the box,” said Ms. Holley, who lives in a row house in Red Hook, Brooklyn, with her son, Smith, and husband, John. “It’s not something I want my kid to see.”

An empty fishbowl, which sits on a dining room credenza, serves a similar function for Jaime David, a publicist at the Starworks Group in New York, except there are consequences for violators. “If someone picks up the phone between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. without a really good reason, they are tasked with getting our son to bed,” said Ms. David, who lives in Maplewood, N.J., with her husband, Jon, and two sons, Milo, 4, and Jack, 10 months.

Others assign a digital curfew. “No screens after 11 p.m.,” said Ari Melber, a host of MSNBC’s “The Cycle,” who lives in a walk-up apartment in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, with his fiancée, Drew Grant, a pop culture reporter at The New York Observer. The rule was instituted in January, after a vacation in Honduras where the couple found themselves without Internet access and ultimately happy about it.

“We found the evenings were more relaxing, and we were sleeping better,” Mr. Melber said.

Sleep is a big factor, which is why some, like Mr. Jacobs, draw the gadget-free line at the bedroom. “I don’t want to sleep next to something that is a charged ball of information with photos and e-mails,” said Peter Som, the fashion designer, who keeps his phone plugged in in the living room overnight. “It definitely is a head-clearer and delineates daytime and sleep time.”

Households with young children are especially mindful about being overconnected, with parents sensitive to how children may imitate bad habits.

Rebecca Minkoff, a fashion designer, makes a point of turning off the ringers and leaving her two phones on the opposite end of her Dumbo apartment when she plays with her 2-year-old son, Luca. “It isn’t easy, but I do my best to make the few hours I have with my son cellphone-free until he goes to sleep,” Ms. Minkoff said.

Other parents regard dinnertime as sacrosanct. “It’s a nice break for me when all of us can unplug,” said Josh Pickard, an owner of the restaurants Locanda Verde, Lafayette and the Dutch, who forbids his two teenage children, Lotte, 17, and Jack, 13, from bringing their multiple devices to the dinner table. “ I can just be in one place in one moment.”

But it’s not just inside the home where users are weaning themselves from the habit. Cellphone overusers are making efforts to disconnect in social settings, whether at the behest of the host or in the form of friendly competition.

The phone-stack game is a lighthearted way for friends to police against boorish behavior when eating out. The game gained popularity last year after Brian Perez, a dancer in Los Angeles, posted the idea on his Tumblr page. It has since spawned numerous blog posts and an entry on Urban Dictionary, and is searchable as the hashtag #phonestack on Instagram (though not during dinner, of course).

Of course, one could simply not bring a phone into the restaurant in the first place.

Scott Stratten, the author of “UnMarketing,” a book about engaging consumers via social media, leaves his phone in the car whenever he goes out to eat with his 12-year-old son, Owen. “He has full authority to tell me to put it away during any ‘us’ time,” Mr. Stratten said.

To keep guests from texting under the table, some party hosts are banning devices outright.

Peter Davis, the editor of Scene magazine, recently attended a dinner party for about 12 at a West Village home where the host offered to check guests’ phones and put them in a bowl. While most balked, Mr. Davis said that guests did manage to stay off their phones during the dinner.

“It was a hint not be on your phone,” he said. “Unless you work in the E.R. or you’re a doctor on call, no one really needs to be on their phone.”

Bans on digital devices seem to be more strictly enforced when a famous person is in attendance, and the host wants to keep a private moment from becoming public fodder on Facebook or YouTube.

Guests invited to Hamish Bowles’s birthday party in June, hosted by Anna Wintour in her Mastic, N.Y., weekend home, received a call from Ms. Wintour’s office asking them to refrain from posting messages on Twitter or Instagram about the party. And when Anderson Cooper held a birthday party in May at Eastern Bloc in the East Village, the invitation reportedly said “no cameras, no plus ones.”

Mindy Weiss, a party planner in New York and Los Angeles who specializes in celebrity events, said cellphone bans are becoming a new normal “on the high-profile end.” She advises hosts to explain the cellphone rules in the invitation, have clear signs at the party and, when possible, carve out a special area for important calls — like a smoking area for those who need to check in with the baby sitter.

Bronson van Wyck, a party planner in New York, fights technology with technology. “There are ways to make a venue a cellphone- and social-media-free zone,” he said, though he wouldn’t specify his exact methods.

But maybe the best way to curb cellphone overuse is by preying on people’s social insecurities. In some circles, being inaccessible is a status symbol.

“Public cellphone use has reached an uncivilized fever pitch, so now it’s chicer behavior to exempt yourself from that,” Ms. Blume said. “You’re not answerable 24/7, and that’s a powerful and luxurious statement.”



September 20, 2013

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