Future Tense

High-Tech Clothing Forces You to Stay Off Your Cellphone

Did you say something?

Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

If clothes make the man, can they also make him a better person who doesn’t incessantly check Instagram over lunch?

These days, 90 percent of Americans own cellphones and, according to the Pew Internet Project, “67% of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls—even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.”  

If you don’t have the self-control to release the phone from your clammy, rictus grip, perhaps consider a new clothing line that might help you become a more focused brunch partner. Focus: Life Gear, a project by Japanese designer Kunihiko Morinaga and commissioned (oddly enough) by Trident gum, is a fashion collection that uses radio-frequency-shielding fabric to cut off almost all electromagnetic waves to a cellphone when it’s placed in the garment’s pocket. It’s not clear if we’ll ever be able to buy the clothes, but they were on display in Toronto.

According to Morinaga, “while the introduction of the internet and smartphones has made things very convenient, we are spending a lot more time in this ‘virtual world’ even when we are with real people.” He explained that he made a point of using fabric that would typically shield wearers from the elements, but applied it in this line to block out “the storm of information” begging for our attention—“the idea is protection from the virtual world,” he said.

With the rise in cell-, and now smartphone use, there’s a growing anxiety about whether their ubiquity is undermining our ability to pay sustained attention to one another. Not to mention the most basic irritation of people chatting incessantly on their phones in public places. So, if we don’t want to just turn them off, as Fast Company points out, can we use technology to enforce our community’s dearest moral principles?

While preventing your own smartphone from receiving calls and texts is one thing, signal jammers that affect all phones in their vicinity remain illegal to use in the United States. Enter cellphone-jamming vigilantes who claim that they’re enforcing the hallowed no-phone-conversations on public transport rule. Take Eric, the Philadelphia SEPTA bus signal jammer of 2012. As he told NBC10, “I guess I’m taking the law into my own hands, and quite frankly, I’m proud of it. … A lot of people are extremely loud, no sense of just privacy or anything. When it becomes a bother, that’s when I screw on the antenna and flip the switch.” Another man was arrested in Florida in 2013 for using a jammer on his daily Interstate 4 commute for almost two years. He told investigators he simply wanted to stop people from using cellphones while driving, but as it happens, he was also knocking out transmission towers and police radios.

Other countries take a different approach: France and Japan enforce a code of silence for culture-goers by allowing the jamming of cellphones in movie theaters and concert halls. And Mexican churches have used them to keep their parishioners talking to God, rather than Snapchatting.

Now, if you don’t want to invest in the clothes or risk arrest by carrying around your own signal jammer, how about paying your friends the courtesy of purchasing this cell service-blocking hanky?