In San Francisco’s New “No Tech” Zones, If You Use Your Phone You Could Get A (Fake) Fine

Even if the rule is fake, the idea is real: Try to be mindful, at least in those rare moments you’re in the sunshine.

Walking past certain signposts in San Francisco parks, you might see something new under the parking rules: A “no tech” sign listing fines for anyone caught using a smartphone or tablet on a picnic.


No, it’s not real. But artist Ivan Cash wanted the signs to look as official as possible. “By appropriating an authoritative tone, park goers are forced to seriously consider the sign’s motives and implications,” he says. “The ambiguity that surrounded the first installation a few weeks back of ‘Is this actually official?’ elevated the conversation, as opposed to if it were simply a handmade sign or flier.”

San Francisco now offers free wi-fi at more than 30 parks and plazas throughout the city. And while Cash doesn’t think that’s automatically a bad thing, he’s hoping that people might start to think a little more about when they want to pull out digital devices versus talking with friends, or enjoying green space that was designed as a respite from the modern world.

“I think it’s all about balance and reflection,” he says. I’m totally guilty of using my phone in the park sometimes, but generally try to be mindful of when I use it, rather than have it be an automatic response to boredom. This project is a unique way of continuing the conversation.”

The first set of signs came down quickly, but the artists just put up several more, hoping to reach as many tech-addicted San Franciscans as possible.

“I hope these signs put a smile on people’s faces,” Cash says. “I hope they spark conversation about what role we want technology to play in our lives and our environment. I hope they inspire us to think more critically about technology and maybe even to leave our phone at home one day a week. Or resist the impulse to check our phone the moment we walk out of a movie theatre. Land in an airplane. Stop at a red light. Wake up in the morning. Sit on a park bench. Or finish reading this.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.