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The Anti-Tech Tech Movement

Startups are making gadgets to address psychological problems caused by other gadgets.
Image: NoPhone

The NoPhone, a 3D-printed block of plastic about the same size and weight as a smartphone, is entering the final hours of its Kickstarter campaign. Despite getting a ton of media attention, it looks like the "technology-free alternative to constant hand-to-phone contact" won't meet its $30,000 goal. Even so, the NoPhone hit a nerve: the compulsion to disconnect, and make it clear to everyone else that you're disconnected.


Entrepreneurs and designers have racked their brains for creative, quirky ideas for how to cut us off. But much of the effort goes into making a statement, to show others around you that you have better things to do than to be connected to a device.

When challenged to create a product that "looked beyond the smartwatch," designers at Code and Theory went to an opposite extreme. The device looks like a caret (^) perched on the user's ear and emits EEG waves through a bone conduction speaker. The sound is supposed to cause your brain to induce slower theta waves, the same ones it emits when you're daydreaming or in the shower.

The other element is what it signals to others, something like the opposite of whatever it is that Google Glass means. "It's a statement piece that tells other people you're taking a break from them and everything else for a few minutes," reads another review.

The other element is what it signals to others, something like the opposite of whatever it is that Google Glass means.

Other wearables look slightly less conspicuous while still making a statement. Designer Kunihiko Morinaga developed a clothing line called Focus: Life Gear. Each dress, coat and pouch is made of fabric that shields radio waves, which grants its wearer "protection from the virtual world," as Morinaga said in an interview.

The DIY community has also taken up the gauntlet, designing pouches that render phones useless or hoodies with zippers that can turn off irritating televisions.


Scientists have established the need for these sorts of products; much like drugs and sugar, some of the things we like about technology are the same things that make it bad for us.

When you get an email, text or notification, your brain produces dopamine. This makes you feel good. But it also elicits what neuroscientists are calling a seeking behavior: you want more of it.

Today, the average person who spends the day in front of the computer is being constantly dosed with dopamine triggered by an onslaught of pings. The result has been a slew of new disorders, including nomophobia (the fear of not having access to technology) and phantom ringing or vibration syndrome (where you're positive that your phone rang or vibrated, but it really didn't).

These disorders are far more prevalent than we might like to admit; one 2010 study of phantom vibration syndrome found that 68 percent of subjects experienced the hallucination. Another study way back in 2006 found that one in eight Americans showed at least one symptom of Internet addiction—and that was before the advent of YouTube or affordable smartphones.

So why not just turn off your devices off if you want to be disconnected? Part of it might be that we just can't. We're already addicted, and we need help. "When your phone is with you, there is too much temptation to use it," the NoPhone team said in an email. "When the NoPhone is with you, the temptation is still there. But when you try to use the NoPhone, it will not work. Because it's a piece of plastic."

But a more compelling reason is the desire to show people how disconnected we are. At a time where mundane goings-on are grounds to post and inform distant acquaintances on social media, it's easy to see how something might not count if it's not visible to others. If you can't show people online because you're disconnected, may as well show them IRL.