The Cheat Sheet

Conversations on the curse of a connected world

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on January 15, 2018

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What do you mean?

Light Phone. Surprised? Well, we’re talking about a phone that starts shipping this week, after a long wait, and gadget mavens, businesses and even sociologists expect it to become a success by helping people in this multi-device-connected world reclaim the long-lost art of conversation.

Reclaim conversation?

Yes. Tech thinkers such as Sherry Turkle have been telling us for a while now about the need to go back to talking. Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, presents a strong case for dumping gadgets for plain-vanilla face-to-face conversations to rekindle the losing art of human bonding. Turkle has detailed the perils of a connected world in which we lose each other in real-time and claim phantom pleasures of belonging. So, connectivity cynics expect ideas like the Light Phone to help us bypass a multi-screen regime, to engage in meaningful conversations.

Sounds pretentious, but interesting. What exactly will the Light Phone do?

The makers of the Light Phone say the venture is their first step in “starting the conversation”. It’s the opposite of a smartphone. It support calls. And nothing else. One round of charging helps it run for about three weeks. It is an extension of your smartphone, controlled via an app. It reportedly costs just about ₹7,000. It has neither games nor browsers.

Interesting. Whose idea is this?

Light Phone’s creators, Joe Hollier and Kaiwei Tang, made the phone at Google’s 30 Weeks incubator in New York. They say they made it because it became “very clear that true happiness means being present” — to quote Roman philosopher Seneca.

Hollier and Kaiwei have told media that they hope the phone will help people find balance with their connectedness. That said, they don’t think people should never connect again.

Can’t I just switch off my smartphone?

Well, studies show you won’t do that easily even if you’re forced to.

So it finally boils down to having a healthy connections, online and offline, right?

You said it. But the idea of reclaiming conversations and staying away from 24x7 connectivity is not just a social or philosophical problem…

Then?

It has an important economic angle as well. Some years ago, a research firm that studies workplace issues found that digital information overload from multi-tasking and multi-device connectivity could cause losses to the tune of $900 billion a year at workplaces. One can easily imagine the damage such an overload costs today when almost everyone in developed countries and almost all members of the upper and lower middle class in developing countries own smartphones.

And this number is only going to increase.

Exactly. Researcher IDC says global smartphone shipments will hit 1.45 billion units in 2016. With data costs falling thanks to competition in the 4G markets and devices becoming affordable and sporting cutting-edge features, human productivity, creativity and quality of offline relationships undergo a mammoth transformation. And the resultant “cognitive overload” can cause tensions among colleagues, pull down job satisfaction and strain personal relationships.

So, devices like the Light Phone offer an alternative?

Looks like it, even though many critics call it a bizarre invention. But others feel it can help us disconnect from the digital cacophony and keep our interactions minimal and engage in a world that really matters, without denying ourselves the fruits of connectedness. And that’s a good connect to a healthy future. It’s our back-to-basics moment, in a way.

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Published on November 30, 2016

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