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We all know that we use our phones too much. The average person spends nearly nine hours a day on electronic devices according to one recent study, which also found that we spend more time checking emails in the morning than eating breakfast.
And last month, TED talk star Sherry Turkle argued in her bestselling book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, that being on our phones all the time is reducing our empathy. But unplugging totally is unrealistic – there are some calls you simply need to take and texts you must answer. So how can you digitally detox, while remaining partially connected?
Kate Unsworth believes she has the answer. Aged 27, she is a ‘digital native’ – Facebook was founded when she was 16 – and she admits that she used to check social media up to 20 times a day, and her emails at least 50 times a day.
‘I started to realise that my happiness depended on curbing my bad phone-checking habits. But I needed help doing it. There wasn’t anything on the market, so I had to build it,’ she says when we meet at her east London office.
Stylishly dressed in a black oversized shirt and skinny jeans with headphones around her neck, she has a large rose-gold ring with a black stone on her middle finger. It’s a piece from her line of hi-tech jewellery – that women will actually want to wear.
The stone in the ring, necklace or bracelet buzzes only when the most important calls, texts and emails (according to your preset list) come through, so that you can put your phone in your bag and forget about it. ‘I wanted to design something that would help people be more present and live in the moment,’ she says.
It’s an amazing device. The stone, called Altruis, is central to the design; it is packed with software that communicates via Bluetooth with a smartphone. ‘I’ve got my mum, my boyfriend and my two business partners programmed in, so when they email me, I know about it.’
The device has another feature where you can set a code word so that if anyone emails you with it in the subject line, you get an alert. ‘Mine is “bananas”. If my team or friends really need to get hold of me, they just text me that word,’ says Unsworth.
The Altruis has been 18 months in the making; a prototype has been tested by users for a year. But now it is finally available to buy in selected boutiques around the world, and on Unsworth’s website, Vinaya. From next spring, it will also be available at Net-a-Porter.
Unsworth’s journey to digital detoxing started three years ago, when she was working for a management consultancy company. ‘I was totally passionate about my job,’ she says. ‘I was giving it my all and that meant I was totally connected. If I was at dinner and an email came in, I’d reply under the table, and I’d step outside to take calls.
‘I’d even do it in the middle of the night and start again as soon as I woke up at 6am. It got to a point where my boss and my client both said they didn’t expect me to be online all the time, but I couldn’t help it. I was always “on”.’
A photo posted by VINAYA (@vinayahouse) on Oct 13, 2015 at 2:54am PDT
One evening in February 2013, Kate was waiting in a restaurant when her friend called to say she would be two hours late.
‘I thought I would just catch up on work while I waited. Then my battery died and I remember feeling so angry. But I ended up having a glass of wine, relaxing, and thinking, “This is what I should have been doing in the first place.” By the time my friend got there, I felt like my whole perspective had changed. I realised I needed to switch off more.’