04/27/19
Brice Bunner
Technology

The Light Phone helps me pursue simplicity, but only to a point

    

Image ©: IndieGoGoThe Light Phone, if you haven’t heard of it, is a fantastic approach to minimizing the connection we all have with our phones. It’s simple by design and only presents the features we initially desired from our phones back when we first received them; you know, to call people. But even in the face of this simplicity, almost before the product got its initial backing on its crowdfunding site, the Light phone II replaced the first design. Is it set to be a minimalist product plagued by endless upgrades?

The age of distraction

Whatever else age you think we’re in, it is clear by our output, that we are facing massive distraction. Our phones have become a crutch we lean on in the face of a moment’s break from some other activity. To see this in action, time how long it takes people on a bus or in a line to pull out their phones and start scrolling.

This diversion has eroded several things that we are only now discovering the ramifications of. Principally: our eyesight, our attention span, and our verbal communication are being damaged by these devices.

For most of us, we would rather scroll than talk to strangers. And that’s not a good thing. So, in an effort to address this problem, a group of designers created and crowdfunded the Light Phone.

This alternative posed a safe harbor for me on my own journey to overcoming the pull technology has on me. It offers an opportunity to stay connected in the simplest of ways, while not completely divorcing myself from my smartphone (since the Light Phone uses my other phone’s signal). An important feature because I use my phone for work.

The Light Phone’s purpose

This device is very much like the iPhone 4 (RIP) in that it’s a simple, elegant, white or black slab. The e-ink backlit screen is covered with translucent paint, making detailed graphics impossible, which is part of the appeal.

I am excited about this technology because it puts limiting my phone in my hands, rather than either throttling or grayscale do. There seems to be more control, since my iPhone can stay on the counter at home while I am out for a walk with my kids, for instance.

I understand that this creates two products where I previously only had one (adding more waste in the process), and I am not naïve to that fact. So long as the addition has ample value and lasts as long as my current iPhone (V. 5, thank you very much) the additional carbon it adds to my footprint should be minimal.

Going simple is an uphill battle

The quest to refine my life down to the essentials—to reduce my consumption to only that which is purposefully chosen for specific application—has been a slow one. It seems every time I make a choice for something simpler, the waste piles up beside that choice.

This entropic decline of “simple” can be seen in the Light Phone, too. On the eve of releasing their minimalistic product to the masses, the design team pulled it back in-house and tinkered a few more things into it. More features that (when you think about it) customers really do need.

The reason this is interesting to me is that even well-meaning tech companies struggle against the feature creep that infects consumers. Once the novelty wears off, it seems we start looking for things to add to our products in order to keep things fresh. This is the peril of innovation, what Clayton Christensen calls “overshoot.” And then another company comes in (like Light Phone) to take the place of the first company’s lack of attention.

 

The irony in all this is that we now need to purchase a phone to make calls on because our smartphones are ill-equipped to do that thing they were first designed to do. As feature creep took over each iteration of design, the principle reason to have the device was lost.

But there’s a new reason that has taken its place. For the majority of Americans, distraction is what we actually get our devices for! This is illustrated perfectly when you see parents giving toddlers a phone to pacify them; those children grow up seeing smartphones as an escape hatch.

Despite the upgrades, what the Light phone addresses is our need to minimize the distraction that comes with those feature-laden devices in our pockets. It aims to help us collect back those moments we waste looking for the perfect emoji when we could be connecting with people IRL.

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