Put that away! Tech startup creates phone-free zones with lockable cases

Last month singer Adele singled out a concertgoer for using a video camera instead of living in the moment and experiencing the gig.

The 28-year-old pop star pointed to a woman in the crowd and said: “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 isn’t the only celebrity to be irked by the sea of cameras and smartphones they face during public appearances. Jennifer Lawrence told off a reporter using his smartphone during an interview at the Golden Globes, while Kate Bush asked fans not to take photos or film during her shows saying, “I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iPhones, iPads or cameras.”

Alicia Keys recently found a solution to the problem that doesn’t involve the public humiliation of fans and journalists: a lockable pouch into which guests are required to place their mobile devices. The pouches are made by San Francisco startup Yondr to allow music venues, schools and businesses to create phone-free zones.

Keys tested the system during a gig at the Highline Ballroom in New York a few weeks ago. Other artists to deploy the technology include bands like Guns N Roses and The Lumineers as well as comedians Chris Rock, Louis CK and Dave Chappelle.

“It’s a fallacy to think you can experience something and document it at the same time, regardless of what Google and Apple say. When you use your phone to record something or are texting you are not really there. Your mind is somewhere else,” says Graham Dugoni, founder of Yondr.

“As bizarre an experience it is to stand at a concert behind a sea of smartphones, it’s even stranger for the artists to see that sea of smartphones,” he adds.

Wesley Schultz, The Lumineers’ singer and guitarist, told the Washington Post that Yondr is the best solution to an awkward problem.

“I’ve tried all sorts of things. If you yell at the audience or treat them like kids, they’re going to act like kids,” he said. “It’s a little bit clunky, but it’s better than telling them to leave their phones in their cars or forbidding it.”

When attendees enter the phone-free zone they are given the cases – which come in three sizes and feel like soft laptop sleeves – for their devices. These are locked and then given to the device’s owner to look after. If they need to make or receive a call, the phone user has to move out of the phone-free zone to get the sleeve unlocked. Yondr won’t go into details about how exactly the locking mechanism works, but it sounds a little like how security tags are removed from clothes.

Dugoni insists that it’s not about punishing people for their smartphone use, but about liberating them.

“Generally people don’t let loose because they are afraid of showing up on YouTube and being accountable for what they do all the time,” he explains. “Yondr frees people up.”

Outside of the entertainment industry, Yondr gets a lot of requests from schools.

“Parents are especially pleased. They are worried about unbridled smartphone use and this can keep the integrity of the learning environment,” he says.

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