Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states that, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”, and the same seems to apply to trends, especially technology trends. Take smart phones. It is becoming obvious that sooner or later our phones will eventually become an extension of our lives – if they aren’t already. It’s a slow but steady total reliance that, at some point, is bound to end in tears. Just think of the sheer panic that descends the moment you realise that you’ve lost or misplaced your phone. Even a dying battery induces mild hysteria.
Dion Chang in conversation with BizRadio’s Grant Jansen
Podcast | Click HERE to listen
Today, our phones not only hold all our contacts and connections (and as a result we’re unable remember anyone’s numbers off by heart), but also our day-to-day diary, birthday and anniversary reminders, our notes-to-self (if you haven’t tried Evernote, you should), and of course our always-with-us camera, that fuels our social media feeds – our lifeline to our parallel universe in cyberspace. This kind of connectivity is all well and good, but it does cause conflict when it comes to physical, interpersonal interactions.
Mealtimes are particularly stressful: and if you’re a parent of a teenager, you’ll be nodding in agreement. No one ever thought that getting people to lift their heads from their phones, simply to share a meal, would become such a challenge. This is where the first pushback started.
About eighteen months ago the “equal and opposite reaction” to cell phone intrusion began somewhat demurely. As technology alters our social patterns it seemed appropriate that mealtime etiquette be the first hurdle to tackle. Online shopping portal – uncommongoods.com – designed some ingenious table napkins that were not only novel, but also spoke volumes about technological interference. The napkins were designed especially to wrap your phone in during a meal. Once wrapped, the embroidered words “you have my full attention” appeared on the top. In terms of 21st century etiquette, this translates into a romantic gesture – sad, but true.
But the challenge of having a meal without cell phone interruption is obviously a greater war with many battles to fight. Enter Phone Stacking. Rather than appeal to one’s sense of good etiquette, this concept appeals to your competitive streak. The game works best when a group of friends go out for dinner. Everyone places his or her cell phone in the middle of the table, stacked on top of each other, face down. During the meal it is inevitable that someone’s phone is going to either ring or beep with some sort of notification. Phone stacking tests just how addicted you are to your phone. The first person to break down and reach for their phone has to pay the bill for the entire table: fun, sad and telling, all in one.
Using peer-to-peer pressure to limit cell phone addiction may clever, but it was just a matter of time when this challenge would be commercialized. Around about the same time phone stacking became a trend, a clothing boutique in New York launched with a novel and unique marketing drive. Apartment 32 is the flagship store of clothing brand, Weatherproof. The retail concept itself is unusual. The store is laid out to look like a trendy apartment and the store assistants are referred to as ‘residents’ while the shoppers treated as ‘house guests’. However, the house rule for all ‘house guests’ is to check your smart phone in at the door. Storeowner, Freddie Stollmack, explains his unusual policy: “We’re providing a great venue for people to visit, put their feet up, and enjoy face-to-face conversation. People can actually get to know each other without the help of an electronic device”.
It’s a somewhat Zen approach to get your customers to “be present” so that they can focus on the store, the clothing, as well as the buying experience. But store visits are fleeting, so checking your phone in while you shop is not that much of a challenge. If you really want to up the stakes, you need to revisit the real conflict zone – mealtimes – and in particular, in a restaurant.
In Los Angeles, restaurant owner Mark Gold decided to provide his diners with a more intimate experience, and very cleverly tapped into two big trends: technology disruption, and diminishing disposable income. Unlike Apartment 32 in New York, diners who come to eat at Eva’s have a choice of checking in their phones on arrival, but if they do, they receive a 5% discount on their meal. Gold explains that, “It’s really not about people disrupting other guests. Eva is home, and we want to create that environment of home. It’s about two people sitting together and just connecting, without the distraction of a phone. We’re trying to create an ambience where you come in and really enjoy the experience and the food and the company.”
Unsurprisingly, over 50% of his customers have taken up the offer, and no one has yet to ask for their phone back during their meal, which basically supports the old adage that “money talks”: or in this case, “discounts reignite conversation”.