Hey you, put that phone away!

HARISH BHAT | Updated on January 25, 2018

Time to detox!

Marketers are creating new products and services to beat mobile phone addiction

We enjoy using our smartphones, and undoubtedly they are amongst the most useful devices of our age. But ever so often, many of us also feel we are addicted to our mobiles, and we wearily wish to disconnect from our digital devices, at least for a brief while. Recently, this addiction to mobile phones came to the fore when two significant shareholders of shareholders of Apple highlighted the possible harmful effects of heavy mobile phone usage on childrens’ health, and asked for enhanced focus on this social and business issue. Suddenly, mobile phone addiction appears to have become a hot topic. Smartphones have become so cool, so seductive, so very good at everything they do, that we cannot resist going for our next click or swipe, every few minutes, all through the day.

Like some of us need our sugar fix, we also need our phone message fix – an incoming e-mail, a WhatsApp message, or a text, that we feel a compulsive urge to read and respond to, virtually immediately.


Now, there appears to be growing recognition, at least in a segment of consumers, that while smartphones make our lives so much more convenient, such addiction or overuse is not good at all. Google searches for “phone addiction” have reportedly risen steadily over the past few years, indicating the growing interest in knowing more about this topic. “Nomophobia”, or the fear of having no mobile phone at your side, is the evocative name given to this new human problem.

As is the case with all human problems, smartphone addiction has also created the need for solutions which can help people address and resolve this problem. Consumers who are aware of this problem come to realise that excessive phone usage can potentially lead to issues such as distraction while driving or working or speaking, sleep deprivation, lower levels of real and meaningful interaction with other human beings, significant waste of time, and perhaps even additional stress, depression and fatigue. And hence they seek solutions to reduce their phone usage.

Needs and solutions

This, in turn, creates a plethora of needs which marketers can profitably address through relevant and imaginative solutions. This is a relatively new area, but several products and services targeting this need have already begun appearing around us. Here are some of them.

Nissan, the Japanese car company, has launched an interesting concept called the Nissan Signal Shield. This is a compartment in the car which blocks all cellular, Bluetooth and wi-fi signals. It is built into the armrest of Nissan’s famous Juke crossover vehicle, and uses an age-old invention called a “Faraday cage”, which blocks electromagnetic fields, including these phone signals. When a mobile phone is placed in this compartment and the lid is closed, a “silent zone” is created immediately. This provides drivers a real option – when they are driving, they can choose to put their phones away in this compartment and eliminate the possible distraction and temptation to reach out to their mobile phone, even if it is in silent mode, to check whether a new message or call has just come in. For people who desire a distraction-free drive, here is a simple and appealing product.

Yondr is a product that creates phone-free spaces for artists, educators, organisations and individuals. It is a small, flexible, patented fabric case, in which you place your phone when you enter the designated phone-free areas such as concert halls, courts or conference rooms. Once the phone is inside, the case locks automatically, so thereafter you cannot see or use your mobile as long as you are within the space, even if you are sorely tempted to. You can only unlock the case after you leave the designated phone-free area, and use an unlocking base which is located outside this area. However, the case and phone are safe in your possession at all times. Yondr claims that its pouches “help you turn off your phone and tune into life”, and some organisations have called this product “an absolute game-changer, which leads to a more energetic and positive climate and culture”. Possibly because people without the constant distraction of phones listen to others more intently, work more creatively, and are generally more fun to interact with.

Phone-life balance

Motorola, the mobile phone company, is addressing this issue by providing all users a simple online quiz to assess their “phone-life balance”. When I initially read about this, my first thought was that work-life balance appears to be passé, we are now in the era of phone-life balance. The quiz is quite a useful service, and it is evocatively titled “Do you own your phone, or does your phone own you?” This conversation was initiated by Motorola in India during the Diwali festival period last year, when it released a video that showed people glued to their cellphones, totally oblivious to the brilliant fireworks and festival celebrations all around them. Now, Motorola’s “phone-life balance” has gone global.

Quite appropriately, a number of mobile phone apps. have appeared, that help people address the subject of smartphone addiction. These include Antisocial, Quality Time, Rescue Time, Onward and Offtime. Antisocial, for instance, provides parents a simple and complete phone monitoring solution. It is a clever application, designed particularly for parents to ease their young children, who have just got their first-ever mobile phone, into the world of social media. It allows parents to see what social media apps their children are using, for how long, and also reduce app usage time, all remotely. In many ways, an app such as this recognises that part of the responsibility of limiting smartphone usage by children is on their parents.

These are only a few examples of how new products and services are helping to address the needs created by smartphone addiction, amongst various consumer segments – ranging from car drivers to artists to parents and children. Many more such solutions will surely emerge, as marketers create imaginative solutions to this all-pervasive need. Will we soon see no-signal rooms in hotels, or mobile-free holidays, or trekking shoes that have an in-built option to block out phone signals? Will a cup of tea or coffee soon be marketed as a product that can help you create your own phone-free space, for a brief while? Put away your phone, and watch this space.

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, and author of The Curious Marketer. These are his personal views. He acknowledges valuable inputs from Hiteshwar Gaur, Tata Sons, in the writing of this article.

Published on January 25, 2018

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