The Cure to Your Smartphone Addiction? — An Interview With Joe Hollier

The Public Goods Blog is about health, sustainability and people making an impact. That’s why we seek out and interview amazing people who can share incredible stories or valuable insights. Their wisdom might be the inspiration you need to live a healthier, more sustainable life.

woman holding light phone

It’s no secret that millions of people have an unhealthy dependency on their smartphones. During idle time they are often unable to relax, unplug and enjoy the world around them. Instead they reflexively reach into their pockets and work, text, go on social media or play games.

Here are just a few of the issues smartphone overuse can cause or exacerbate, according to a comprehensive study: eye irritation, poor sleep, anxiety, stress and bad posture. There are even couples who feel like smartphones have sapped the intimacy and romance from their relationships.

With these problems in mind, Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang created the Light Phone, a device that only does what a phone needs to do: make calls. No texting, no apps, no games, no email and no worries.

The Light Phone is designed to be used as a secondary phone. When people feel like taking a break from their smartphones, they can leave the burden at home and bring the Light Phone instead.

Recently Hollier and Tang launched the Light Phone 2, which adds a few “essential tools” such as messaging and navigation. The phone is a great option for people who want to “go light” without limiting themselves too much.

As someone who has never bought a smartphone and always stuck with a flip phone, the idea of going light resonated with me. I connected with Hollier, and he was kind enough to let me pick his brain.

Public Goods: What kind of impact have the Light Phones had on the health of your customers?

Joe Hollier: Well we always want to remind everyone that the Light Phone is not some magic solution that will automatically cure you of your vulnerabilities to the smartphone, and that using the Light Phone is not always “easy.” It takes some self-control and discipline, and it’s likely a holistic approach for which the Light Phone hopes to inspire.

There is an initial anxiety many users describe when first using the Light Phone. The choice to bring the Light Phone instead of your smartphone, however, can be empowering as you overcome the infinite excuses you might be able to make for why you’d need a smartphone.

Overall our users describe their light moments as incredibly refreshing. There is an awareness that is gained in taking yourself away from the smartphone. Perhaps you might feel that you were more addicted than you realized, and that even upon returning to the noise of your heavy phone, your perspective and relationship with the device has changed.

The Light Phone helps you to appreciate your life, taking you away from the streams of advertising that will try to convince you that you are not enough and need to buy more to feel complete. Users have described the benefit to their productivity. We have a lot of artists/musicians/writers/photographers who use the Light Phone as they find inspiration and create new work.

We don’t have any quantifiable research in terms of health benefits in using the Light Phone at the moment. Our qualitative research certainly proves that going light is a powerful experience, and if one can find and maintain a more healthy relationship to their smartphone or the internet at large, there are likely to be many health benefits.

PG: Could someone use the Light Phone or Light Phone 2 as a primary phone or their only phone? If not, have you thought about developing that capability?

If I were to move on from my flip phone, for example, I would most likely buy the Light Phone 2 as my only phone. It’s essentially a sleeker version of my flip phone that offers navigation. As much as I love my flip phone, I’ll admit I’m not crazy about printing out directions.

one black light phone 2, another white, 2:22 time on clock

JH: Yep! That’s how I also intend to use my Light Phone II as my primary phone. After we launched the original Light Phone we heard from many other flip phone users about how much they resonated with the philosophy behind what we were building, but in reality they didn’t need a “secondary” Light Phone to their flip phone, they needed a better, simple standalone phone because they were already living a light lifestyle.

Other users who were actively using the original Light Phone were enjoying being light so much that they were ready to make the jump away from the smartphone for good, and it is from this feedback that we began developing the Light Phone II as a potential replacement for one’s smartphone. Some users may still use the Light Phone II as a complement to their existing smartphone as well.

PG: $400 seems like a heavy price for a light phone. Why is the Light Phone 2 worth the money?

JH: It’s true $400 seems like a lot to pay for such a simple phone. That is, however, our reality right now as a small team trying to build a fully customized phone from scratch at our scale.

To really appreciate the value of the Light Phone takes an understanding of how important our time and attention really are, and how vulnerable the smartphones can make us in giving those away without thinking twice. It’s true that for $400 you can probably find a lot of smartphones that will tout many more features and specifications than we never plan to offer.

The Light Phone II takes a less is more approach, prioritizing ease of use with our customized OS experience — providing a reliable tool that is capable of some smart things like directions or hailing a ride-share home, without the distractions that come with having infinite feeds fighting for our time and attention.

A lot of what differentiates our phone is its design, which is of course subjective and a personal preference to a great extent. There really are not any high-end simple phones for users who prefer a more minimal lifestyle, but don’t want to settle for the sometimes less than sophisticated experiences of using flip phones with their t9, inbox/outbox and lack of group messaging. In fact many flip phones still have web browsers, Facebook and Twitter apps, albeit not great so likely not encouraged to use them often, but it’s where our phone’s fundamental values become obvious in comparison.

In general, by supporting Light, our users also feel good about supporting an independent tech company; the underdogs so to speak. We’re trying to create an alternative to the tech monopolies that currently rule the landscape, even if it’s for a relatively small market, it’s certainly an underserved market today.

PG: What kind of battery life do your Light Phones have? I only need to charge my flip phone once a week.

JH: The original Light Phone lasted 2-3 days on standby and had around 90 minutes of talk time. It was really intended for short breaks from your smartphone and our goal was to make it as absolutely as thin as possible so it was a phone that made going light feel special.

The Light Phone II is designed more as a reliable tool one could use day in and out. We don’t have our final battery life tests complete, but we’re estimating around two weeks on standby and so at least few days of ‘light’ usage of messages and phone calls. So likely not quite as long of a battery life as your flip phone.

PG: What’s next for Light?

joe hollier, kaiwei tang
Hollier (left) and Tang (right) at an event

JH: We’re really excited to launch the Light Phone II this summer, starting to ship to our backers in June. We’re planning to continue to build a roadmap of optional tools users can choose to add to their Light Phone II. That would include things like directions, calculator, timers, ride-sharing tools, hot-spot tethering, etc.

We’ve been working closely with our backers to understand what is possible and what makes sense, and it’s been a really interesting conversation. We love the idea of starting to sell other objects that compliment the experience of being light, things that give the phone more context of how you might see yourself using it.

We’re always curious what other objects we can run through the same ‘light’ design lens that we’ve used to create our Light Phones, and look forward to exploring those possibilities. We’re trying to build a unique technology brand, founded by two artists/designers, that respects and empowers its users through beautifully-designed products.

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Comments (2)

  • I just finished the book by Cal Newport on Digital Minimalism in which the light phone is mentioned.

    I was considering it but seriously, the price is too high and shipping it to Greece where I live makes it even more inaccessible. So I went for a Nokia with buttons. It’s convenient.

    I like to see this minimalism trend growing (people don’t think I’m crazy for wanting less anymore haha)

  • I like this idea very much. I am a minimal phone user, and the bloat of unneeded apps is distressing.
    I do like to have texting available, however. You might consider keeping that function.

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