I used it last night while watching Django. All Cinemode seemed to do was dim the screen and send me a coupon for a free drink after the movie ended. Oddly, I mistakenly used it at a non-Cinemark theater so my guess is that it's not location aware. Here are some observations about it:
1) I like Cinemode's carrot (rather than stick) approach toward encouraging disconnection. It encourages particular behaviors by giving away free drinks rather than by kicking people out of the theater. In contrast, in my storyboards I envision students logging into the app to recover a lab fee. But that is sort of a stick-masquerading-as-a-carrot. And another problem with the lab fee approach is that I doubt that many universities would allow instructors to impose such a fee even if it was ultimately redeemable. Following Cinemode's model, maybe a better approach is simply to make my app function as an attendance taker: The student logs in at the beginning of class and if they stay logged into the app for the whole class (or a good portion of the class) then that counts as a day of attendance (which could then be counted as part of their grade). Another advantage of doing it this way is that my app would then double as an attendance taker.
2) One paradox of building attendance-taking into a mobile app is that one then needs to figure out how to accommodate the students who don't have smart phones. In my C.S. department that's a diminishing group of people (about 85% of our students carry them). But it's still a cohort of users that need to be catered to. I guess one can still pass around a piece of paper or provide a web login if the classroom is computer equipped. But I'm open to other suggestions.
3) A common question raised when I peddle the app is that students with offspring want to stay in touch with their kids even when in class. My reply is that a Walden-zone app isn't a device that is meant to be an enforcement mechanism so much as a mechanism that gently encourages disconnection to counter the way that most apps (and Web business models) gently encourage more connection. To accommodate parents, the app would have a variety of disconnection settings that they could choose from. Fully enabled, the app would dim the screen and disable the audio and the vibrating mechanism. But users could choose what level of disconnection they prefer. The point of the app is to encourage mindfulness about one's connections and to encourage practices that counter the digital-maximalist philosophy that is embedded in most of our apps. It isn't meant as a draconian device that stamps out disagreements about digital practices or denies people their freedom to choose.
4) Speaking of disagreements, emerging technologies are fertile ground for arguing about what constitutes proper social etiquette. In building a Walden zone app, my intention is to raise greater mindfulness about these disagreements. Cinemode seems already to have had that desired effect in the following exchange in the comments section of the its web site:
A lively exchange! (Hopefully an academically oriented Walden-zone app can encourage a slightly more amicable and nuanced discussion).`