You probably spend more time with a smartphone than anything (or anyone) else: It goes to work with you, waits in line with you at the grocery store, joins you for dinner, and maybe ends up in your bed. And inevitably–as much as you might be addicted to glancing down every few minutes–you’re probably a little sick of it.
That’s why the new Light Phone basically only has one feature. The tiny, credit-card sized phone, designed for taking a break from technology, is dumber than most dumb phones: It can only make calls. Through an app, it links up with your iPhone at home, and forwards any critical calls you might need to take. Otherwise, you pretty much ignore it, and that’s the point.
“We’re not saying people shouldn’t use smartphones at all,” says Kaiwai Tang, who co-founded Light with fellow designer Joe Hollier. “We’re just saying that for certain moments–like taking your kid to the park, having dinner with your wife–those moments we don’t really need notifications from Twitter or Facebook or anything else.”
“It could be as simple as going on a lunch break and not checking your email 10 times at Chipotle,” says Hollier.
The co-founders met at Google’s 30 Weeks incubator, a new program that helps designers create and launch companies. Though they were surrounded by digital technology, the pair didn’t want to make yet another app for disconnecting or focusing.
“We were wondering how we could build a product that actually does the opposite of those apps, and allows people to live in the moment,” says Hollier. “That’s how we started thinking, people could leave their phone at home, but what’s the minimum amount of connectedness?”
The phone doesn’t have a screen or a menu. Critically, it doesn’t let people text–despite the fact that the majority of communication on phones now happens through text messaging, not voice calls. In theory, that means you’ll probably only hear from someone if it’s actually important. And you won’t spend any time staring at your phone, because there’s nothing to see.
“If I’m sitting at the park and text my girlfriend, the whole time I’m sitting there waiting for a response,” says Hollier. “It ends up taking way longer than if I just call. And the lack of a screen is really important to us: We don’t want this to be something that you dive into. When you get on your phone and you check a text message, you end up checking email or Instagram. We wanted this to be connect, talk, hang up. That’s it.”
When the designers tested the concept with users, most people found it hard to be away from their smartphones–at first. “There was sort of a half hour where people said they felt really anxious when they first started,” he says. “But that ended up turning into an extremely positive feeling.”
When people came back to their smartphones, that experience was actually better too. “You have all of your emails and notifications to come back to, it’s like a treat,” Hollier says. “You have way more versus if you’re checking every three minutes.”
Ultimately, the designers hope the phone helps lead the way as part of a bigger movement to disconnect. “People have said, why can’t I just not use my smartphone at all?” says Tang. “We actually highly encourage you to do that. We want to promote a basic connection between human beings.”
“Instead of using text messaging, just talk to people in person,” he says. “Instead of using a camera, just look at things around you.”
The Light Phone is crowdfunding on Kickstarter.