If abstinence from alcohol originated in Protestant England, maybe abstinence from digital devices will come from Catholic France. The country has recently rolled out a new labor law called the “right to disconnect,” and following a campaign promise made by President Emmanuel Macron, the French Ministry of Education plans to ban the use of smartphones in all of its public schools.* Philippe Vincent, a member of the French head teachers’ union, has estimated that it would take about 3 million lockers to keep cellphones out of the hands of wired écoliers.
Lockers seem to be the smartphone prophylactic of choice for French ministers who must attend meetings sans portable, but for school students, the ensuing nomophobia—the fear of being without your smartphone—might be enough to provoke a revolution.
The policy shows how humans are struggling to adapt to the most captivating prosthesis they have ever invented. And France’s plans exemplify a digital temperance movement that might yet become widespread. In fact, it is already well underway—and with promising results.
* * *
France isn’t the first killjoy to quit the smartphone party. In 2015, the Canadian artist Garnet Hertz invented a cheeky device called “Phonesafe,” a masochistic lockbox designed to incarcerate smartphones for a set period of time. Hertz meant Phonesafe as a provocation, but the same idea quickly became a product. Today, you can buy similar, but mass-produced, containers on Amazon, and multi-phone lockers have become a mainstay in corporate offices and schools around the world. A McDonald’s in Singapore has even installed a locker designed to promote “family togetherness” and face-to-face conversation.