a photo of the light phone 2 and its tagline, "a phone for humans" pulled from its indiegogo campaign

The Light Phone 2: A Flawed Revolution

foreword

“A phone for humans,” The Light Phone 2, is the second iteration of its kind: a crowdfunded concept for a device that could only make calls. No texting, photos, or apps — just phone calls.

It was cute. It was small, unobtrusive, and could fit in your wallet. Compact and simple.

Over 3,000 people bought into the initial idea on Kickstarter, generating over 415 thousand dollars in funding. At the time, I was interested in the concept, though I didn’t think it was a very practical solution for the average consumer — most of us require more than just a single way of communication.

It’s just purely inconvenient to have to go to a computer whenever you wanted to get anything done. 

However, I did think that the first Light Phone was an important social first step.

Some began to realize that their phones were taking up too much of their lives — whether it was just an occasional annoyance from too many notifications or a full-blown addiction, their idea was a sign of resistance to just how dependent on our phones we are.

Before smartphones were the norm, cellular devices did mainly two things: calling and texting. Without so many features, individuals spent the majority of their time on the computer if they wanted to communicate, using instant messaging and message boards.

Now, there are about a billion ways of doing just about everything. Entertaining yourself, taking notes, editing photos, time management — it all fits in your front pocket.

That tiny rectangle has become the centerpiece of our lives that we rely on it as our daily driver for essential everyday tasks. That tiny rectangle is the most advanced technology we’ve ever seen so available to the general consumer — as of 2018, 2.53 billion smartphones are being used worldwide.

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Yet, as it evolved from the original iPhone that was relatively limited in its capabilities, the “smart” phone slowly demanded more and more of our time. We’re not just taking phone calls and sending texts, we’re banking and investing and watching movies and streaming music and taking photos and scrolling through social media.

Now, we’re systematically addicted to our smartphones. 

Our smartphones take precedent to our classes, our commutes, and even our work. We put whatever is calling our name via ringtones from that tiny rectangle so high on our priority list that it has even surpassed human contact.

We’re more willing to stare down at our smartphones instead of smile at someone when we pass them on the street. We’re more willing to scroll through Instagram than to socialize with our friends. We’re more willing to send Snapchats of our lives than to live them to the fullest.

The argument regarding convenience for many of the features of the smartphone falls flat when they are not being used at the right place and the right time.

When we’re on our phones when others are around, we’re telling them “this phone is more important than you.” When we use our phones when there’s work to be done, we are saying “this phone is more important than my future.” When we use our phones when there is life going on, we are telling ourselves “this phone is more important than me.”

We are having a good time to show to other people that we are having a good time. We love showing off to everyone around us that we are living this fake, incredible life, and it’s all because our smartphones and social media are constantly demanding attention and something new to show off to our peers.

We don’t seem to live with our phones, but through them.

Our smartphones don’t just take up all of our time at once. We’re not sitting in front of it for two hours a day all at once, then ditching it and saying we’re done for the day. No, that’s not what a smartphone does. We can say that we studied for five hours last night, but if we were checking our phones every 15 minutes, we weren’t really studying for five hours.

Why?

Because our phones sip at our attention. It’s amazing at being subtle. That little buzz or ding or jingle that plays every time an app wants your attention — that’s a sip. Over the course of a day, it can sip at your time, energy, and attention anywhere from several dozens to thousands of times every day.

It’s like a dripping faucet. One drop might not seem like much, but over time, you’ll be paying for hundreds of gallons. Checking your phone once might not seem like much, but that short amount of time adds up over the course of a day. A month. A year. A life.

Not only sipping at your time, the phone also shatters concentration. It’s like having a baby that cries out randomly throughout the day. Whatever stream of focus you had is interrupted by that call for attention. It’s tempting. Every time you hear it, you get a little hit of a feel-good chemical in your brain.

Somebody or something wants you. And it damn sure feels good to be wanted.

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After the company went quiet for a while, The Light Phone 2 caught my eye in my YouTube feed. As someone who is searching for new ways to live a simpler, more deliberate life, ditching the constant distraction and siphoning of attention seemed like an attractive lifestyle shift.

The concept behind it is that your phone is like a minifridge full of alcohol (the distractions), and you’re the alcoholic. By taking that fridge away and replacing it with a water cooler, the possibility of even getting your hands on alcohol has been eliminated.

However, with an absolutely unreasonable price tag and a flawed design, I was disappointed in what could have been such an amazing idea brought to life.

So, I decided to write them a letter:

Dear Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang,

As a lover of both technological innovations and minimalism, the concept of the Light Phone has me drooling: something that does everything I need to while maintaining an unobtrusive, small footprint and simple aesthetics. Being able to communicate with everyone with the de-emphasis of social media and distractions from a fuller life, it’s amazing.

You’re not just selling a product.

Rather, it’s an idea you’re trying to get people to buy. As of writing this letter, over 2500 people are inspired to buy into this new lifestyle of pulling away from the strong attachment we have to our devices.  

Studies have shown that we look at our phones an average of 85 times every day and spend over 2 hours focused on them. That amount of time doesn’t even put into consideration how inefficient our focus becomes once interrupted by the bombardment of notifications we get over the course of a day.

Sometimes, it’s hard to pull away from your smartphone: it’s a constant stream of affirmation in the forms of likes and retweets; it’s a constant stream of entertainment; it’s an instant way of communicating with the people you like without having to relocate.

Smartphones are more addicting than we think.

So, if I were given a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being completely uninterested and 10 being ready to buy immediately, I’d be sitting on a solid 9: sold completely on the idea, but not on the product.

There are a number of different oversights to this product that make it unattractive to me.

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First, the price. If you are attempting to sell a product with the motivation of being a minimalist and making that life choice accessible, you have made a fundamental mistake exchanging the desire for profits over the global change you can create by eliminating the distractions we are tempted to pay our time to.

Making the phone far less expensive would address two problems: decentralization and replaceability.

Smartphones are the center of many of our lives. They’re our tether to the information-driven world. They’re the Swiss Army knife of technology and all of the features they provide make them the most important item that we carry with us.

This is the fundamental problem.

It’s the fact that many of our lives revolve around the smartphone and everything it carries. Many of us begin to panic when our phone’s batteries are about to die and we’re left without a charger. Where we go, what photos we take, the people that we meet, the social media on our phones play more of a role in those kinds of decisions than we think.

We’re absolutely terrified of breaking and losing our phones. Without them, we’d have to wait for another 3 to 5 business days to pass before we can check our Tweets and Instagrams and Facebooks on the go.

In fact, when I lost my phone in Denver a year ago, I thought a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. There was no longer this demand for attention from this device that constantly craved it. It was the ultimate needy kid or significant other or pet that I felt like I had to tend to.

That’s why the Light Phone 2 is so attractive to me. It’s what a phone was meant to be: a tool that we used. Nowadays, we might even say that companies are using us through our phones.

An affordable, lightweight and minimalist phone would eliminate the stress we have about protecting the item that we need most. Replacing a traditional smartphone can have huge financial demand as well as practical setbacks of not being able to communicate.  

If the device was something around $150 MSRP, it’d make replacing it simple and stressless. If the focus of the phone is to remove attention and effort from our phones and to decentralize it as a part of our lives, I would hope that it wouldn’t be too much of a worry to displace.

Lowering the price would also make this phone far more accessible to more people, thus making the lifestyle change more accessible. $400, even the discounted $250, is a hefty price to pay considering that we can opt for behavioral changes for free.

In addition, if your product is trying to sell itself as a daily driver for me, I need it to be good. I need it to be the best. You’re eliminating the need for a good processor, a camera, a large amount of RAM, and a GPU. So, for the $400 you’re asking for, you better be giving me a complete package.

The problem here is that if everything below is not met, then there’s no reason to buy this over something like the Moto E4, which is a fraction of the price at around $150 and offers far more practicality. I can’t even use this phone to check emails, which are an essential component of many people’s lives. It’s not like social media as our emails are connected to our work and school — replying in a timely manner can be of utmost importance.

As of right now, this phone is less functional than many smartwatches, which makes me wonder if I should just get a smartwatch and leave my smartphone in my backpack at all times. It’d be cheaper and more functional.

It’s even on your IndieGoGo page: “Tools are not a distraction”. Why is your product missing so many?

If I could redesign the Light Phone, it’d have:  

  • 2:1 Body Ratio (120mm x 60mm x 6.5mm)
  • A Flashlight
  • A Voice Recorder
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • WiFi/4G
  • Complete Waterproofing
  • Pedometer
  • Reminders/Calendar
  • Voice-to-Text
  • Physical “Silent” Slider
  • Wireless Charging

The Light Phone 2 should not be a “dumb” phone like many news outlets are calling it. Instead, it should be smart in the way that it’s a utility for us to use, packed with many features in a small and simple footprint.

At this point, I am getting the impression you are putting profit above the social change it has the power to generate. You have the capability to motivate hundreds of thousands of people to opt for a simpler lifestyle, increasing productivity and happiness and decreasing the dependency on an item for happiness, yet you fell short on fully implementing the concept into the world.

I believe in the idea that you are bringing into this world, a revolutionary one, but I would like to see a full dedication to that one idea before I will fully commit to buying the Light Phone 2 or a future release.

I look forward to what you bring to the world.

Many thanks,

Lawrence Hu

2 thoughts on “The Light Phone 2: A Flawed Revolution”

  1. Love this article! I’m very interested in the light phone concept as well. So many times a day I find myself on my phone instead of interacting with people in my life, I have to consciously set it down and away when I’m interacting with my son. I think texting is still an important feature to have but definitely interested in a phone being just a phone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! I’m interested in what The Light Phone 3 will bring to the table. Hopefully, it’ll fix the flaws and shortcomings that the 2 is promising. However, it is crowdfunding, so maybe new features will be added once more money is poured into the project.

      Like

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