The invention, dubbed the Sociometer, resembles a seismograph but instead of measuring and recording earthquakes it notes down on graph paper how much data is being used by nearby smartphones.
Created by three students from the University of Dundee, it can be attached to the wall of a pub and provides a live visual illustration of how antisocial drinkers have become.
To test their invention, the team installed it in a 120-year-old pub in the city and found that people were still attached to their phones even at peak times when they were surrounded by friends.
The team includes Tiernan Haugh, Jamie Spratt and Campbell Scanlan, who are all currently studying at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design at the university.
The invention has already won an award after the students entered it into a prestigious design competition organised by Unesco and held in Shenzhen, China.
“People anecdotally talk about how younger generations are becoming more content spending time on their phones than indulging in conversation, so we wanted to design something to measure that,” said Mr Haugh, a digital interaction design student.
The device was tested in Dundee’s Speedwell Bar, known by locals as Mennies, with the aim of measuring the well-documented social phenomenon of people being glued to their phones.
“We specifically chose the Speedwell Bar because it was recently voted Dundee’s best community bar,” Mr Haugh added.
“We thought it was fitting to install a device that could reduce the distraction of our phones by highlighting the amount we use them in a social setting.”
Mr Spratt, a product design student, added: “It’s called the ‘Sociometer’ because it shows how social people actually are in traditional boozers. It’s a conversation starter and is able to capture how different generations use Scottish pubs.”
Research published in September confirmed that Britain is becoming a nation of smartphone addicts, with more than half of the population admitting they use their device too much.
Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer Survey found that a third of people wake up in the middle of the night to respond to messages or check their phones, while 11 per cent did so while crossing the road.