Efforts to Turn US Restaurants, Concerts into Phone-Free Zones

Efforts to Turn US Restaurants, Concerts into Phone-Free Zones

Tuesday, 11 September, 2018 - 06:15
A man photographs his meal with a cell phone. Photograph by Ana Arevalo. AFP
New York - London - Asharq Al-Awsat
Last year, the international bakery chain Le Pain Quotidien asked its US customers a pertinent question: “Can you survive a meal without your phone?”

According to the German News Agency, this was an attempt to start a conversation around a topic that is already discussed in many households: whether food tastes better when you’re not distracted by your smartphone.

Some Americans appear surgically attached to their phones, reading, swiping and typing without pause, even while they’re eating.

Indeed, millions begin and end their days by reaching for their devices, according to a recent Gallup poll, while market researcher Dscout says Americans touch their smartphones an average of 2,600 times a day. Some restaurants and musicians who want their audiences to be more attentive have tried to counteract this trend with special boxes and lockable phone pouches, hoping to train people to stop fiddling with their phones.

On the tables in New York’s Hearth restaurant, there are cigar boxes bearing the words “Open me.”Inside, a second message encourages customers to use the boxes to put away their phones and instead focus on connecting with their fellow diners.

Owner Marco Canora says he found it unbelievable how much time customers were spending on their phones, and that humans are losing sight of what it means to connect with each other over a nice meal.

Le Pain Quotidien went one step further and rewarded those who stored their phones in a wooden box on the table with a free dessert.

Even fast-food giant McDonald’s has attempted to pry children away from their screens in Singapore by introducing phone lockers. “Phone off, fun on,” it says. Canora says around two-thirds of his customers follow his suggestion to put their phones away.

One woman recently celebrated the box as an overdue reward after a “hard week,” he says, telling him she had “earned” the break from her constantly humming phone.

Canola admits that most Americans would consider it rude to keep their phones out during a meal and would always excuse themselves for an important phone call. He also insists he doesn’t want to sit on his “high horse” and set rules for people. But that’s exactly the approach taken by former White Stripes singer Jack White, who forces his audiences to put their phones in special lockable cases made by the San Francisco-based company Yondr, not always with his fans’ approval.

Alicia Keys, Guns N’ Roses and Childish Gambino, as well as comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock have done the same thing.

In an interview, White told Rolling Stone magazine that rock concerts were no different from the cinema, classical music concerts or churches, where people automatically put away their phones.

Fiddling with their phones meant people failed to react to his music, he said, making it difficult to know what to play next. Many artists simply feel they deserve an attentive audience.

“I’m right in your face, baby. You gotta seize this moment. Put that damn camera down!” Beyonce infamously told one concert-goer who was too busy putting his camera in her face to sing into the microphone she was holding out to him.

“Could you stop filming me with that video camera? Because I’m really here in real life, you can enjoy it in real life rather than through your camera,” Adele told another woman who was filming her at a 2016 concert.

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