Substitute phone looks to cure us of our smartphone addiction

By The Dallas Morning News

There are those times of desire, need, intense need. … We stare wantingly at the smartphone on a desk or end table waiting — nay begging — to be picked up.

Our minds race. … We wipe that drop of sweat from our brow. Our hearts beat a little faster. We shake with anticipation as we try to resist but can’t. … Our hands reach with a speed and precision that affords the perfect grip as we grab our phones and …


Sweet relief.

Call it smartphone addiction.

Yes, it’s real. Psychologists have even come up with a name for it: nomophobia. It is the fear of being without one’s phone.

In 2013, Psychology Today said it affected 40 percent of the population. A year later, that figure grew to 66 percent and included a deeper dive:

Sixty-five percent, or about 2 in 3 people, sleep with or next to their smartphones. (Among college students, it’s even higher).

Thirty-four percent admitted to answering their cellphone during intimacy with their partner. (What happened to being present?)

One in 5 people would rather go without shoes for a week than take a break from their phone. (It’s a good way to lose your sole and your soul.)

More than half never switch off their phone. (That’s an addiction.)

The first point’s probably not indicative of much. Many people use their phones as alarms clocks. It’s unlikely they’re kissing the phones and saying, “Good night, snookums,” while propping the device up with its own pillow (and if they are, then perhaps reaching out to a professional is indeed necessary).

The others points are problematic, but there could be an app for that. (Of course.) Austrian designer Klemens Schillinger has created something called Substitute Phone designed to wean people from their smartphone addictions.

According to The Verge, the facsimile phones are “made of black polyoxymethylene plastic with stone beads embedded in the surface, which allows a user to replicate familiar actions, such as scrolling, pinching or swiping.”


The devices are not yet for sale. But their creation does raise the question of whether a such a device could peel people away from their smartphones in a way similar to how e-cigarettes and vaping devices have allowed people to quit smoking.

Our jury’s out. Is it the sensory satisfaction of holding the phone that’s at the root of the addiction? Or is it the yearning to see if one has a notification some sort? As technology advances, it seems people are less wedded to particular devices than craving to know if personalized information awaits them.

Wristwatch devices for both Apple and Android users exist. The intersection of smart devices with laptops allows for people to get those notifications without having to pick up their phones. We suspect the sweet relief comes from knowing somebody responded to a text, Twitter direct message or Facebook message, more so than from caressing a particular device.

But maybe Schillinger knows something we don’t. Once his faux devices go on sale, the market will provide the answer.

By The Dallas Morning News