Like Pavlov’s dogs, humans have been thoroughly conditioned to check their mobile phones at the merest vibration, imagined or otherwise. So much so that an annual report by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer’s found that people check their phones approximately 23 times per day for messages, 22 times for a voice call and 18 times to check the time.
There also exists a term for the anxiety experienced by people without their phones, even for short periods of time. Nomophobia, the fear of not having or not being able to use a cell phone, may result in nausea, panic and desperation, according to a survey conducted by a security application called Lookout.
Although such behavioral ticks may arguably describe many citizens of the industrialized world, various organizations have lashed out against cell phone dependence. Ranging from musicians like the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, who urged audience members to “put that shit away,” to restaurants banning cell phones at the door, backlash against cell phone usage has a growing audience.
In perhaps the most humanitarian reaction to cell phone dependence and its backlash, UNICEF has begun the Tap Project- a campaign that rewards people for not checking their phones. For every minute a user does not ‘tap’ their phone, sponsors will fund one day of clean water to one water-insecure individual.
As for ‘why water,’ UNICEF reports that 768 million people don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water and 2.5 billion people do not have access to a proper toilet. Water-insecurity results in poor hygiene and a greater spread of diseases, causing more than 3.4 million deaths annually. Nearly 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world.
Ironically, nearly 10 times as many people in the world have cell phones compared to those who still use open defecation practices in India alone, 5.9 billion and 626 million people, respectively.
The program does not work on iPads nor droid phones (leaving some unable to test their willpower,) but even if only 200 of the nine million people who bought the new iPhone 5 in September did not check their smartphone for one minute, it would generate enough money for UNICEF to give one child safe drinking water for 200 days.
UNICEF’s campaign provides an excellent out for people trapped in a technology blackhole. Best portrayed during the sketch comedy “Portlandia” by Fred Armisen, his character gets stuck in a loop where he constantly rotates from checking his phone, email, Netflix account until his brain overloads and shuts down.
While people will not self-combust from phone use (although injuries sustained from cell phone usage is on the rise,) thanks to UNICEF, cell phone users have all the incentive they need to put down their phones and become conscious members of society again, one minute at a time.
– Emily Bajet