In Seine-et-Marne, the mayor of a village created a charter to limit the use of screens in public spaces

In Seine-et-Marne, the mayor of a village created a charter to limit the use of screens in public spaces

Faced with the omnipresence of screens and their harmful effects, new initiatives, in France and abroad, are encouraging digital detoxification. Report from Seine-Port.

After “Flowering Village” or “Stop Town”, will “Commune without smartphones” be a label of tomorrow? In Seine-Port (Seine-et-Marne), a municipal decree established a charter which provides for the ban, since March 1, for its 2,000 inhabitants, from using their device (except for telephone calls) in public spaces – around schools, while walking in the street, during gatherings and in businesses that have given their approval. Pictograms on windows remind us of this.

A first in France. Of the 272 participants in the municipal referendum organized this winter, 54% voted for this new rule. A popular consultation far from being unanimous. At the La Terrasse café, the subject comes up on everyone's lips. ” It makes no sense ! » castigates a regular, a cup in one hand, a phone in the other. “The mayor has no right, it’s intrusive! » added another. “It’s just a publicity stunt,” we reassure behind the counter. The news even brought together foreign journalists.

But why make life difficult for smartphones? “We had to act in the face of the dangers of screens,” explains the mayor, Vincent Paul-Petit (LR). On the ground, the councilor noticed a real scourge: teenagers constantly glued to their cell phones, the broken leg of an administrator who missed a walk in the street, phones that disrupt elected officials in meetings… On average, the French people spend thirty-two hours a week in front of a screen. That's almost a third of the waking time over a lifetime!

Among minors, the trend appears alarming with three hours per day for 3-17 year olds. Overexposure not without consequences. Studies have highlighted cognitive risks and developmental delay in young people. “We want to support families in the face of the invasion of screens,” specifies the councilor.

Convince instead of punishing

More of a moral injunction than a punishment: in the event of non-compliance, there is no risk of contravention. Is it also possible, in France, to prohibit the use of telephones in public spaces? “On the grounds of public health, social cohesion or democratic life, it could have been possible to apply a first class fine, i.e. 38 euros. But it would take a lot of means to control,” analyzes Kevin Nader, lawyer and member of the Circle of Law and Freedom. Barely four years ago, the most excessive attacks on freedom were taken for reasons of public health in the face of Covid-19. “But I think that an administrative judge would annul the decision to impose a fine, which he could judge to be “manifestly excessive” with regard to public freedoms,” adds the legal man.

At the town hall too, we want to be reassuring: “We do not want to police, only raise awareness among the population. We are aiming for the same objective as for cigarette butts thrown on the ground. This does not give rise to fines here but it is frowned upon,” clarifies the mayor. If some traders welcome it, like the butcher Sébastien Quenouillère who reprimands “disrespectful” customers in the middle of a telephone conversation, social control is not yet a reality in the streets of Seine-Port.

On the café terrace, in the heart of the village, the waitress, Angélique Da Silva, does not budge: it is not her responsibility to make a comment to her connected customers who deviate from the rule. Moreover, two friends in their twenties are in the middle of a discussion, their smartphones placed on the table. “I have a hard time doing without it,” says one of them, taking a look at the “screen time” tool on her phone. The watch counter shows three hours fifty-four minutes. “That seems reasonable to me for a girl of her age!” » Angelique slips.

A message that infuses

The smartphone still has a bright future ahead of it. “You have to live with the times! What would my son do otherwise? » says Olivier Creveau indignantly. When he returns from college, his teenager often has to book a TAD (transport service on demand in underserved areas) via his phone… It has interfered so much in all the tasks of our daily life that we can hardly limit its use. But timidly, the message infuses. Déborah no longer hesitates to correct her 16-year-old elder when he walks in the street, his eyes drawn to the screen. This 37-year-old mother also voted in favor of the charter against smartphones. Perhaps in a few years she will even contact the municipality to obtain a free telephone without Internet for her daughter, when she enters CM2. In return, you won't have to buy him a smartphone before the end of college. “If all parents signed, children would probably no longer want to have a smartphone…” she says.

A global movement

This innovative initiative found its inspiration in Ireland. In Grays Tones, a coastal town south of Dublin (Ireland), smartphones are banned at school and at home for those under 13. A pact based on volunteerism. All over the world, anti-screen operations are spreading. In Spain, parents are calling on the government with a petition (80,000 signatures) to impose “smartphone-free adolescence”. In India, in the small Indian village of Vadgaon (State of Maharashtra), a siren sounds every evening to invite residents to get off their screens. In the United States, the House of Representatives voted on March 13 for a bill providing for the banning of the very popular social network TikTok, if it does not cut ties with its Chinese parent company… In the empire of Middle, the national version, Douyin, is subject to restriction. Beijing does not skimp on coercive measures against overexposure to screens with, in particular, a digital curfew for minors between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. In Silicon Valley (California), cradle of the digital age, the pioneers of these tools prohibit the fruit of their creation from their offspring… A height that makes you think. “We must also regulate these private companies which profit by capturing our attention. Bans should not be an end goal,” believes philosopher Anne Alombert*.

In France, Emmanuel Macron announced in January that he wanted to “regain control” of screens among children, remaining vague on the possible measures. A commission of experts must report its conclusions by the end of March. In the meantime, many local elected officials are seeking the opinion of the mayor of Seine-Port.

* Author of Digital schizophrenia (Ed. Allia, 96 p.; €7.50).

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