It has come to this.

Last week, McDonald's announced a new initiative called "Phone Off, Fun On" as a way to get families to spend more quality time together.

A phone locker at a McDonald's in Singapore  can hold up to 100 smartphones in clear glass containers, so you can lock up a phone with a key. Here's the video:

A section on the table with an outline of a phone encourages families to set the devices down and stack them in a pile--you know, so you can focus on your Big Mac and your kids.

I love the idea. I'll explain why in a minute, but the reaction on social media so far has been anything but positive. One user noted that the idea lasted about five minutes for her grandkids. Others, such as a user who commented on a news report, said it would never work. The test, at the Marine Cove store in Singapore, is just an experiment.

Linda Ming, director of brand communications and customer care at the fast-food chain, told Channel NewsAsia: "As a popular restaurant destination for families, we have observed that the use of mobile devices during meal times may sometimes get in the way of family bonding."

I'm sure parents everywhere are rolling their eyes on that one.

The problem, of course, is that you can ask your middle schooler to put her phone in a locker, but that's not exactly the same as having a discussion about phone usage. Maybe for that 15-minute meal your child will not think about Instagram or Snapchat, but she will likely resent you for having to use the locker in the first place. And then, when the child starts using the phone again, you can bet the first post on Instagram will be about you.

That said, I don't feel this move is so dystopian after all.

McDonald's is not trying to keep kids from using their phones or help you become a better parent. It's just a locker. The fast-food chain has good intentions, and I could see this idea catching on eventually--maybe at the library first or in other formal settings. Persistent phone use is a widely known problem. Maybe we're not calling it phone addiction yet, but there's now a ton of research about how we receive a small amount of dopamine in the brain when we browse the web or receive an email. We think what is on the screen is more important and more rewarding than what is happening around us.

At a meeting with college students recently, two of them were using a phone during a brainstorming session. The irony! We were brainstorming. It was a participatory event. We don't realize that a phone only provides one form of stimulation. It's highly focused, and highly controllable. Yet we're missing out. I'm firmly on the side of using phones as a productivity enhancer but avoiding them in social settings. I agree with every book Sherry Turkle has ever written. My kids are constantly  phubbing me. It's a problem in society, and it is only getting worse. I applaud McDonald's for at least making some attempts to get families to engage more in public, to put the phones down.

Do you agree? Should parents manage phone use in other ways? If the phone lockers make their way to your McDonald's, will you be happy or annoyed?  

Published on: Oct 23, 2017