- Sarah Cronin
Smartphones have become nearly essential tools for managing professional and personal lives, as well as providing infinite sources of entertainment. The devices can also function as a social safety bubble. Whether they're buried in New York Times headlines, a never-ending stream of Instagram eye candy or political vitriol on Twitter, users frequently shut out the real world.
There's hardly a time or public place in which people don't feel entitled to whip out their iPhones and text, swipe or even talk to their heart's content. Recently, however, Burlingtonians Tyler Bedard, Jacob Dubois, Tanner Faucett and Leah Fishman created a monthly event series specifically designed to be free from the tyranny of the tiny rectangular beast.
Held at Study Hall, a coworking space on College Street in downtown Burlington, Sync! offers adults 21 and over an opportunity to put down the phone and tune in to one another — while doing a mystery activity. Attendees are told only to surrender their phones at the door and get ready to engage with whatever the night may bring.
The sole way to learn more is to show up; the next Sync! happens on Thursday, July 18.
"There wasn't a specific moment that sent us over the edge," says Fishman, Study Hall's community manager. (The venue frequently holds its own events, but Sync! is operated independently.) She notes that she and her friends grew tired of going to bars and parties where people were glued to their phones.
"Even [during events] that we've put together here, we've noticed that people have a really hard time being present and engaging," Fishman says. "Do we take the phones away and see what happens next?"
Sync! has a fairly hefty admission fee of $20. But that Andrew Jackson gets you two local craft beers (or seltzer, if you prefer) and the possibility of walking away with "a new skill" or "something you made," as the Facebook event listing suggests. Most importantly, the organizers want attendees to make human connections.
Up two flights of stairs, the sleek Study Hall is outfitted with lush plants, gorgeous hardwood floors, tasteful lighting, communal tables, couches and comfy chairs, plus a view of College Street. After slipping their phones into a fancy dress sock at check-in, guests can grab a drink and mingle for 20 to 30 minutes.
Next, they are randomly split into groups. At the June event, about 20 people — ranging in age from early twenties to 50-plus — formed five teams. After some brief get-to-know-you conversations, they were instructed to grab one of several odd props from a table. (This reporter's team selected a hollow, decorative rubber turkey.)
Once the items were distributed, we were instructed to write and perform a Billy Mays-style infomercial selling our item. It was essentially a crash course in improv and sketch-comedy writing.
Just before "show time," each group received an unmarked envelope. Enclosed was a letter informing the "manufacturers of the product" that it was not safe for human use or consumption. This last-minute curve ball sent groups scrambling to adjust their presentations accordingly, with fairly hilarious results.
Sync! aims to present fresh activities at every outing. Though 20 bucks may seem like a lot to shell out for corporate retreat-style icebreakers, the proceeds are funneled back into the event series. Fishman says the organizers hope to "eventually raise the stakes and do larger, more impactful events that require more of a budget" and have "more of a physical takeaway."
"We're pretty excited to put ourselves in situations where we're out of our comfort zones," says Fishman.
But are you?