Schillinger’s substitute phone helps overcome smartphone addiction

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We’ve all been there: fiddling with your smartphone because it’s there, or reaching for it when you hear a text message notification. Austrian designer Klemens Schillinger created the Substitute Phone as a way to help smartphone addicts cope in its absence.

Schillinger says that more and more, phones are becoming an addicting object in our lives. Users constantly play with them, even if they’re not looking for a message or expecting a call, and he was inspired to design “a tool that would help stop this ‘checking’ behaviour.”

Schillinger designed five facsimile phones, 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 goal is that it could be used as a coping mechanism for someone trying to check their phone less.

With a marble-like appearance, each set of beads have been made using the natural stone howlith. Polyoxymethylene plastic is relatively heavy hence the substitute phone also replicates the weight of an ordinary smartphone – making the imitation more convincing.

By replacing digital functions with the stone beads, Schillinger aims to create a set of therapeutic tools that can help frequent smartphone users cope with withdrawal symptoms, by providing physical stimulation as a substitute for phone usage.

“The touchscreen smartphone has made it possible to ‘escape’ into social media,” he said. “We check emails and messages not only on public transport but also in social situations, for example when having drinks with friends.”

When researching his project, Schillinger was inspired by a documentary featuring the Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco – who was trying to give up smoking by substituting his pipe with a wooden stick.

“It was the same thing, but without the nicotine, just the physical stimulation,” he said. “I remembered this and thought to make phones that would provide the physical stimulation but not the connectivity.”

“Some of these finger movements – like zooming in, or moving up and down – were born with the smartphone,” the designer explained.

“The Substitute Phones allow these movements to be felt by scrolling on the marbles that are integrated into the case, something which is a clear differentiation from fidget spinners or fidget cubes.”

This is the second project by Schillinger that aims to discourage people from using their mobile devices.

His Offline Lamp only lights up once the user is willing to surrender their smartphone, urging them to concentrate on more worthwhile activities – like reading or working.

Both of the projects were created for an exhibition called #Offline – Design for the (Good Old) Real World, which took place at this year’s Vienna Design Week from 29 September until 8 October 2017.

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