Put Down the Freakin’ Phone


I’m waiting at a stoplight. It turns green but the car ahead of mine sits still. Time passes. I gently tootle the horn. After another moment’s pause, the car ahead of me shoots guiltily ahead through the intersection. And I know exactly why.

Put down the phone.

It has gotten to the point in my little suburban town where the police have a digital sign running downtown. It says, “Get your head out of your apps.” Okay, it’s a little crude but this is New Jersey. Whaddaya want?

Really, put down the phone.

Ever at the forefront of mobile tech, the Chinese city of Chongqing created a special lane in 2014 for “phone zombies” walking with their eyes on their mobile device (see picture to the right). In 2017, 4.5 million Britons admitted to sometimes being phone zombies – but then, they would, wouldn’t they? The average British adult checks a smartphone every 12 minutes of the working day.  That same year, Honolulu became the first American city to outlaw crossing the road with your eyes on your mobile device. First offenders pay between $15 and $35, while repeat offenders will put down $99.  

For goodness sake, my friend, put down the phone.

A recent article in The Atlantic notes that the American birthrate has declined below replacement level, as it did in Europe and Japan years ago, and notes that Millennials seem sadly unable to create romantic relationships. The author explores many reasons, but one of them is in our hands. To avoid the awkwardness of talking to people to whom we are attracted, we are swiping right on mobile dating apps to indicate our interest and swiping left to say no. And through lack of practice, we lose the ability to begin the hazardous enterprise of starting a potentially intimate conversation with a stranger.

Put down the flippin’ phone.

At ICF, we know that the success of the place called home today depends on how intelligently your community adapts to the waves of technology breaking over us like the big rollers of a storm. Take the right steps and prosperity ensues. Unsolvable social problems begin to yield solutions. The culture that makes your community unique grows richer instead of poorer. Get it wrong – as so many places do – and the opposite occurs.

Well, it starts here and now, in the palm of your hand. If you need to have your phone on the table beside your bed every night in case you miss out on something, you have a problem. If you can’t sit still in your car at a red light without yanking out your phone, you are failing the test of survival. If you leave your place of work and immediately bend your head to the glowing screen, shutting out the world around you, you’re just not going to make it.

You are not the technology. The technology is not you. It is a tool to make your life better – but only you can decide what “better” means. Choose wisely. Choose to be intelligent.

And put down the freakin’ phone!

Robert Bell
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research, analysis and content development activities.
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