The evidence that people are becoming emotionally--if not chemically--dependent on their smartphones is mounting: YouTube is rich with videos of people on smartphones falling and bumping into one another. Teachers complain that kids can't focus in class because they're staring at their phones. Is there any way out of our addiction struggle?

There just might be, thanks to Austrian designer Klemens Schillinger.

As Andrew Liptak of the Verge reports, Schillinger has created the Substitute Phone. The product, which Schillinger has prototyped in five variations, is essentially a black polyoxymethylene plastic box that has stone beads embedded in it. The beads will rotate in their mount, so you can run your finger over them to mimic the experience of scrolling, swiping, or pinching on your smartphone. Schillinger notes that people will play with their phones even when not truly using them--that is, phones have become a sort of high-tech fidget. His goal thus is to give people a replacement for when they shouldn't or can't access a real smartphone.

Scientifically speaking, will this work?

On the one hand, the brain doesn't process and remember in silos. Your brain processes the auditory, visual, and tactile information as you use your phone, and it builds connections that associates those three elements. So, for example, over time, just looking at your phone screen can trigger activity in the areas of the brain that process visual or auditory information. Understanding this, simply being able to swipe, scroll, and pinch might be enough to satisfy a use-the-phone urge.

With the above in mind, being away from your phone legitimately can stress you out. You can start to feel like you're disconnected from people, which triggers a genuine fear of isolation. You can worry about what you're missing out on (FOMO), too. Research has even found that being unable to answer your phone, even when it's right in front of you, can spike your anxiety, boosting your blood pressure and making your performance plummet--you are in a constant state of hypervigilance that activates the fight-or-flight response. People might be able to head off this reaction if they have something that mimics the real phone, but the more conscious you are that you have a fake, the less likely it is this will be effective.

Researchers also are looking as deeply as they can into the use of fidgets. Anecdotal evidence suggests that simple activities like playing with a pen or a fidget spinner or cube can improve focus for some people. But experts say there's no real scientific support for these types of claims, at least not yet. Most research has centered on large muscle movement, such as swinging your legs, not the fine motor movement you get from handheld toys or devices. So from that standpoint alone, Schillinger probably can't claim with authority that the Substitute Phone is going to boost concentration.

Maybe the solution doesn't come in a box

Science isn't entirely ruling out that Schillinger's Substitute Phone might have benefits. But perhaps it doesn't go far enough. Sure, you can use something like this to cope with the symptoms of phone addiction. But in the end, it might amount to a behavioral modification that's barely different from the original behavior. We might do better to target that original behavior at its heart and train ourselves to expect much lower technological integration in our lives. That can start simply by, say, charging your smartphone in a different room at night instead of keeping it under your pillow. One step at a time, after all, eventually gets you to a mile.