Four Questions For Founders | The Light Phone

By New Lab / August 1, 2019

Light co-founder Kaiwei Tang demonstrating his simplified mobile phone.

The Light Phone frees us from our addiction to our hyper-virtual-connectivity. It removes the barriers between us and the real things, the real people, right in front of us that bring us true happiness.

1. Why did you start Light? Do you remember the moment when you first thought of the idea?

The first catalyst was joining Google’s designer incubator, 30 Weeks. We were seeing all these things people were building such as mobile apps, wearables, and smart Internet of Things, and they were all claiming to try to “give you your time back, give you your life back,” but I just don’t feel like that’s the case. Most of the tech products are designed to fight for your time and attention. 

I feel like our minds are always somewhere else. We are constantly distracted by our technology but what about the things happening around us? What about our train of thought or focus? Or the person you care about the most sitting right next to you? 

It’s quite common now to see people sitting right next to each other in a restaurant and make no eye contact or conversation because they are on their smartphones. You take your kids to the park and instead of spending quality time with them, you start checking emails on your phone. You go to a concert and instead of enjoying the live performance, you look it at through your phone and take videos so that you can share them on social media.

We realized that being more connected couldn’t be the thing that makes us happier, so we set off to build products that could inspire and encourage people to take a break. We think people will be happier living in the present. That’s when we started building the Light Phone.

2. How do you see Light impacting how we live our lives?

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-awareness 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 in 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.

3. How have New York and New Lab positively impacted the development of your business?

I  really enjoy the people and the space here at New Lab. Light Phone’s production is mainly in China but we did quick prototypes in New Lab during the very early stage of our development. Design is not just rendering. It’s critical for us to visualize our designs early on either via 3D printing or laser cutting and New Lab’s workshop is a great one stop shop for rapid product mock up.

4. What do you see as your responsibility to make technology ethical and accessible to all?

The two questions we felt like we got asked the most during the Light Phone 1 campaign a few years ago were “$150 for a phone that does nothing?” and “ Is this going to be fair traded?” 

It showed us just how little we understood about the process of manufacturing. To bring a piece of technology to life, even one as simple as our phone, requires an enormous supply chain involving thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people around the world. It is quite the undertaking to say the least. There is no way a well designed phone should ever cost $10 as people have suggested to us, that just cannot be right. 

Alternatively, as a small team it would be impossible for us to completely change the whole supply chain and guarantee a fair trade phone within a year, or even a few years, as nice as that sounds to us… but let’s not say impossible either. We think we can add value to this conversation by showing the true nature of the manufacturing process at our scale. The ecosystem is much more complicated than we realize as consumers, and there are many factors that are not obvious to us as outsiders. Why are people lining up to try to get jobs at factories that we consider a terrible working condition?

We’re very interested in providing an understanding of what and who is involved in bringing new devices to market every year at such incredibly competitive price points. It is unsustainable for many reasons, but especially for the environment. We believe by making this information available we might have a deeper appreciation for the technology we already have, and begin to think twice as we continue to consume so quickly.

Light encourages consciousness. From our personal time and attention on a daily basis, to our understanding of our larger side effects on the world, both the people that work everyday to make the things we often take for granted to our beautiful planet that makes life possible. We’d love to see people want less, consume less, and enjoy more of the simple things that make life amazing because that’s what really matters.

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