Last May, Fabuwood, a Newark kitchen cabinet maker, instituted a new company policy: No phones allowed during meetings.
To enforce this, the company installed “device shelves” outside each of its six glass-walled conference rooms. On a recent Wednesday morning, lively meetings were held in three conference rooms, and the shelves outside were filled with ’90s-style smartphones, tablets and cell phones. The 1,200-employee company pays the cost of a mobile phone to employees who give up their smartphones and 80 people have taken up the offer.
Surprisingly, employees say they like it. Rena Stoff, project manager, said that although she initially hated the idea of being deprived of her smartphone, she found that it made meetings—which she once found boring and pointless—engaging and productive.
“Having the phone away from me has almost made my brain more open to information,” he said.
Fabuwood founder and CEO Joel Epstein was motivated by his personal belief that smartphones are “destroying our personal and professional lives.”.”
He started using a cell phone seven years ago after developing carpal tunnel symptoms in his hands from near-constant use of his BlackBerry. He said he slept better, felt more productive at work and had more meaningful communications. Mr. Epstein, a Hasidic Jew, said his choice of device was not unusual in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, which encourages the use of “kosher phones” with limited Internet access.
Last year, Epstein asked Fabuwood managers how often their employees were on the phone; they estimated an average of two hours a day. He asked a warehouse safety manager, whose job typically involves monitoring unsafe conditions, to secretly document every time he saw an employee use an office phone. Epstein said many of the company’s worst performers were on the list.
Epstein decided to tackle devices competing for his employees’ time and attention with the “InFocus” initiative, asking workers to keep personal devices out of sight while working. No one is punished for violating the rule, but managers will send email reminders when they notice any relapses.
There were some complaints when the initiative was proposed, and some predicted that people would leave. But that didn’t happen, Epstein said. Instead, subjects with mediocre performances improved. “In six months, productivity increased by 20%,” he said, citing internal company metrics.
What surprised him most, he said, was the constant stream of messages from employees saying the program was life-changing.
I heard about Fabuwood’s initiative after posting an article about how to combat my iPhone addiction by switching to a flip phone for a month. Abraham Brull, a software development manager at Fabuwood, emailed me to say that he had struggled with smartphone addiction in the past and that it had helped him join a company that encouraged healthier use of smartphones. technology.
Yours was among hundreds of emails I received. Many came from cell phone enthusiasts who disagreed with my suggestion that using a “dumb phone” indefinitely was not an option. Cell phone users of all ages and professions have long said that their lives would be better without smartphones, and that their marriages, relationships with children and mental health have improved as a result.
Alba Souto, 29, from Spain, said not having a smartphone has made her relationship with her husband, who has also switched to an old Nokia, “more mysterious and exciting”.
“Not always having access to each other via messaging apps has improved the quality of time we spend together,” she wrote in an email. “We have more to talk about.”
“I love it,” wrote Christopher Casino, 29, of Brooklyn, who in October upgraded to a Cat cell phone that gives him access to Uber, Maps and Spotify, but not social media or news apps. “I do my hobbies more consistently. I read on the subway. I talk to my husband more. I don’t feel the overwhelming pressure to know everything instantly and say the perfect thing online.”
Tips for ‘Flip Phone February’
Sarah Thibault, 43, an artist from Los Angeles, said she planned to participate in “Flip Phone February,” an idea I had proposed to follow Dry January. She was inspired to give up her smartphone by herself a viral video of a crowd of phones ringing for the new year in Paris.
He created a February Flip Phone community on Reddit to share messages and tips with other participants. I signed up and posted a link to a contest that Siggi’s Yogurt recently announced offering $10,000, cell phones, smartphone safes, and, of course, free yogurt to 10 people who commit to a month-long digital detox. The company spokesperson told me that 322,935 people participated in the contest.
Longtime cell phone users advise newcomers to “look things up” before leaving home, to bring a pen and notebook, and to alert friends, colleagues and family of the decision to give up the smartphone.
My advice is to consult Dumbphone Finder to see the options on the market; Sunbeam and Kyocera were popular recommendations from readers. But be sure to check with your carrier to find out which “feature phones” (industry term for non-smartphones) are supported by your network.
You may also need to turn to other technologies to fill the gaps. I turned to a digital alarm clock I got in middle school in the 90s. (It still works!) Kelin Carolyn Zhang, a product designer who does an annual smartphone detox, wrote that she was using an old digital video camera this year so she could TikTok on the flip phone journey.
The negative aspects
Those making the switch be forewarned: A few complaints have arrived in my inbox about our increasingly smartphone-centric world.
“The issue that concerns me most, and to which I would like journalists and regulators to direct their attention, is the ever-increasing need to have a smartphone to navigate daily life,” wrote a 47-year-old father with no cell phone. “Ten years ago, the lack of a telephone brought with it some small social challenges; Nowadays it can be difficult to deal with ordinary life.”
He is frustrated by the now common use of QR codes to attend sporting events and view restaurant menus. He and many others said payment machines in parking lots often directed people to pay via a smartphone.
“I just got a parking ticket this week because I couldn’t go online and pay via their QR code or app,” wrote a 31-year-old mother from Missouri on a cell phone. But she said it was worth it.
“Even in these moments I wouldn’t go back to the smartphone. I am done being a slave to a piece of technology that robbed me and my children of my attention,” she wrote. “The years of raising children are short. Your children NEED YOU. Do you want to be a good mom? Do you want to raise healthy children? The best thing you can do is flush your smartphone down the toilet, even for a short time.”
(But don’t actually flush your smartphone down the toilet. You may need to connect it to Wi-Fi at some point to get a two-factor authentication code.)
Some readers, like a business executive and mother of three, said they “could never roll over.”
“The invention of the smartphone has enabled work-life integration in ways I couldn’t imagine!” she wrote.
He said his tricks to make it less addictive included turning off notifications and deleting social media apps. She and others thanked me for reporting a study that found that switching a smartphone from color to grayscale mode helped people significantly reduce their screen time. “Excited about the Grayscale tip,” she wrote, “turning it on today!”
For those wondering, I’ve been using my flip phone as my primary phone for two months. But I got a second line to use for my smartphone when Internet access is a necessity. I’m not sure, for example, that I would have been able to find Fabuwood’s headquarters, on unfamiliar streets in industrial Newark, without it.