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tech crèche

noun [countable]

a safe (a strong metal box with a special lock, used for storing valuable things) designed to encourage people to leave behind mobile phones and other electronic devices when doing outdoor leisure activities

'The trilling of mobile phones in the forest may be a thing of the past with the introduction of what is being termed a tech crèche in a national park to encourage visitors to leave their gadgets behind and interact with nature instead …'

The Guardian 23rd July 2014

In these days of WiFi and 3- and 4G, the boundaries of electronic communication are fast disappearing. It's therefore a scenario which will be familiar to many – you venture out into the great outdoors to enjoy the fresh air and the scenery around you, only to discover that the signal on your smartphone is so good that you can't quite tear yourself away from emails, text messages and Twitter alerts. The result? You don't engage with your natural surroundings to quite the extent you intended. If experiences like this have filled you with regret, then taking advantage of the services of a tech crèche might just be the answer.

the interesting thing about a tech crèche is not so much the concept itself, but what it says more generally about the hyper-connected society we live in

A tech crèche is a lockable container made available in a public place. It's not just somewhere secure to pop your wallet or car keys, but specifically intended for 'tech' in all its forms – think pinging smartphones, droning satnavs or the tinny sound effects of a handheld games console. The philosophy of the tech crèche is less about security and far more about encouraging people of all ages to simply cut themselves off from these devices for a few hours, so that they truly enjoy the scenery and nature around them without distraction – and perhaps even engage in 'old-fashioned' pastimes like actual conversation! If this is a concept which chimes with you, you might enjoy this short promotional video, put together by the UK's National Park Authority.

The interesting thing about a tech crèche is not so much the concept itself (at the end of the day it's just a locker, made freely available to promote a principle), but what it says more generally about the hyper-connected society we live in. After all, we could simply leave all this stuff locked away in the glove compartment of the car or, shock horror, not take it out with us in the first place. But the problem is that there's a significant proportion of us who, no matter how hard we try, find ourselves genuinely unable to do this. Attempts to capitalize on this issue have led to other gimmicks along similar lines, such as products like the OFF Pocket™, a brand of mobile phone case which blocks signals (bizarre if you consider that hitting the device's off-button has exactly the same effect!).

Background – tech crèche

The French loanword crèche is of course normally associated with caring for children rather than material goods, a meaning which dates back to the 1850s. The catchy creation tech crèche was invented in 2014 by the UK's New Forest National Park Authority, who launched the related scheme following a survey which found that 7 in 10 children believed their parents to be too engrossed in mobile devices, and 6 in 10 adults felt the same about their offspring. It remains to be seen whether the idea will really catch on.

Tech crèche is the latest addition to a growing number of expressions spawned by the problems associated with peeling ourselves away from electronic devices. Others include the so-called digital detox – an agreed period in which you give up electronics in order to reconnect with the real world, a person's tech-life balance – use of technology in a way which doesn't negatively influence other aspects of their life, and tongue-in-cheek situations like nomophobia and phubbing, the former a fear of being without a mobile, the latter the activity of ignoring others whilst using it.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord article. Chick noir.

This article was first published on 12th August 2014.

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