Sloane Davidson, a speaker, activist, and brand ambassador, launched a movement called #DinnerMode at HubSpot's INBOUND conference in Boston last week. The big idea is something almost anyone with a cell phone can understand: The need to break the nonstop addiction of looking at your phone. 

The name of Davidson's movement is a verbal twist on the "Airplane Mode" you can set a phone to while you're in flight. But the fact is, not everyone flies regularly enough to know what Airplane Mode is. By contrast, eating is something everyone does. Davidson's movement bravely asks: How can we apply the basic principles of Airplane Mode to food? Specifically, here's how #DinnerMode works:

1.  Set a timer on your phone for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes. It's your call. Challenge whomever you're dining with to do the same.

2. Make sure your phone's screen is out of your sight. Turn it down on the table or put it away entirely. Don't let its sounds and alerts make you think about all the messages you might be missing. 

3. The timer goes off. You feel as if you've temporarily escaped from so much of your life's stresses. Because you have.

4. Share your experience on social media using the hashtag #DinnerMode. 

Davidson is not the first entrepreneur to laud the healthful, creativity-inducing virtues of unplugging. But her four-step blueprint tackles a few unplugging fundamentals that many professionals struggle with: When is the best time to do it? How long should I do it? How will I spend my time in the absence of my cherished mobile device?

Moreover, #DinnerMode creates a way to unplug that is eminently accessible. Meditation, if you've never tried it, is quite difficult, even for seasoned practitioners. Sleeping eight hours a night? Easy for Arianna Huffington, not so easy for entrepreneurs sweating out the next payroll. But almost anyone can ignore his or her cell phone for at least 15 minutes during dinner. 

Davidson came up with the idea this summer, when she volunteered on a farm in upstate New York to mourn the sudden death of her best friend. "I would physically leave my device in the main farm shed and then head out to one of the fields to do a chore," she recalls. "Whether it was planting, weeding, harvesting or something to do with the animals, I found that most chores took about two hours at a time to complete."

Initially, those two hours were tough for Davidson. "At first, I was anxious to reach for my phone to see what I missed. I would look at emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and texts," she said.

But as the weeks passed, she started checking her phone less and less frequently. She even deleted some apps. In time, she didn't miss them. But breaking the addiction wasn't easy.

"I didn't realize how attached I was, my phone has been within arm's length for years--at the office, in meetings, at home, next to my bed," Davidson said.

Davidson revealed at INBOUND that her family was with her at the farm during this tough time. That helped her break her dependency on the device, to the extent that she was already in proximity to those she'd otherwise use the device to communicate with. Also, just to be around loved ones always puts the lie to "going without" something.

But when it comes to the #DinnerMode movement, the idea of dining with family spawns an interesting corollary question: What about the countless people without families who could still benefit from nightly time away from their phones? Surely part of the mobile addiction is that it's a way during solitary dinners to have all of your friends and family in your pocket.

I asked Davidson for some tips for savoring #DinnerMode when you are dining alone. As it happens, when Davidson was first conceiving of the movement, she shared the idea with a close friend who is single and lives alone. "She told me that while she does take the time to make dinner for herself on occasion, most often when dinner is done and she sits down to eat she takes out her iPad and reads the news or watches something on TV," Davidson said. Having learned from this friend's experiences, Davidson offers four tips for how to enjoy #DinnerMode by yourself:

  • Commemorate the meal by setting the scene. Light a candle. Put flowers on the table. Do something to make your dinner table look full.
  • Set an intention for dinner. Some people pray before dinner and some don't. Regardless of your religious affiliation, take a moment to appreciate the food in front of you before eating.
  • Read a book. A hard copy of a book is better than a screen, for #DinnerMode purposes, since the point is to be fully unplugged.
  • Embrace the positivity. Remind yourself that it's more than okay to be alone. You're reading. You're not stressing over what to say next. You're staying at the table as long as you want. Enjoy it instead of apologizing for it.

Though Davidson launched the movement less than one week ago, it's already resonating with device users. One mom told Davidson that her family loved it. "They all talked about their day instead of the kids watching iPad and the parents still emailing," Davidson said. One of her friends told her that she "felt like she ate slower and listened better to her boyfriend."

Perhaps the biggest takeaway so far for #DinnerMode participants has been a realization about the extent of their device infatuations.

"A lot of people have told me that they didn't realize they were offenders until they tried to not look at their phones," Davidson said. "We all think we're not the ones, other people are."

Davidson hit on this secretly selfish tendency during her INBOUND talk. "When we're on our phone it's important, when other people are it's annoying," she said. Thanks to her movement, the world might just start becoming a little less annoying--one dinner at a time.

Published on: Sep 22, 2014