A Zine About Going Light

The Light Phone
Published in
12 min readMar 20, 2020

Remaining Human in this Digital Age.

(a printed zine, altered for this digital blog, you can also download a PDF of the full zine as originally designed here: https://we.tl/t-LG1xM85h2g )

Ah, the sweet song of dial up Internet. Remember how it went?

Hearing it now brings a surprising amount of nostalgia for a time without ubiquitous Internet. A time where the Internet was confined to one computer, in one room, and when you left that chair, you left the Internet behind.

Nowadays we are essentially on the Internet 24/7. We find ourselves scrolling our feeds before we go to sleep, checking our email before we get out of bed to brush our teeth, and sitting on the toilet for an extra 20 minutes, phone in hand, wondering where exactly are we?

So what happened since our days of AskJeeves, Hotmail, and 56k dial up?

You know the phrase, “There’s no such thing as free lunch?” Well, have you given much thought to the fact that all of our social media, email, and search platforms are free and have been free forever? But is anything really “free”? Of course not.

There was a dream of the Internet’s potential to transform the world for the better. There was hope that things could be fair, everyone would be able to access everything, and it could be free. Companies naturally learned how to make lots of money off of “free”, and that became the underlying business model for the Internet we know today. Google and Facebook are the most obvious examples. There are exceptions. Wikipedia is community funded and maintained. Are.na is an ad-free platform that charges it users. These sites are proof that alternative models are possible and sustainable.

Who knew that scaling this advertising driven business model would lead to a global dystopian nightmare?

The Internet is not free — we pay with our time and attention. Two of the most important things we have as humans.

These products may claim to “make our lives better” by “connecting” us in some new way, but really they are being engineered to keep us hooked. We are humans and we are vulnerable and they are using these vulnerabilities against us.

What’s been created is called the “attention economy”. The real customer for these platforms are the advertisers who are paying large sums of money for their product, which is us.

The algorithms that create our feeds have a goal — they are optimized to show us whatever keeps us on the feed longest.

Could being any more “connected” possibly make us any happier?

A few years ago, Apple released its “Screen Time” feature which allows users to monitor their phone usage. It was a wake up call for many, but also a sign that even Apple’s own CEO was struggling with his phone habits. The side effects were real and felt universally. One can only wonder why Steve Jobs or Bill Gates kept their kids away from this very same technology.

The side effects are widespread, from real physical strains of texting neck or the blue light on our sleep cycles to the more existential social implications of echo chambers. It’s dangerous to have so many companies carelessly collecting and irresponsibly handling so much of our data. It’s sad to imagine the landfills of phones from a few years ago. Everyone is affected in some way by what the advent of the smartphone has done to our society.

If we look at our own screen time results, it’s quite easy to do a little math and start to realize how many hours a week or year we are spending on platforms like social media (4 hours a day times 7 days a week times 52 weeks a year…), and to imagine what we might rather be doing with all of that time.

Why do we get so hooked?

“Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites.”
-Natasha Schull, Addiction By Design

“Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go to The New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content. It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling.” -Aziz Ansari

With the perfect combination of rings, dings, pings, matched with optimized intervals of dopamine, they have created something irresistible.

There are some of the brightest minds in neuroscience and psychology using every trick at their disposal to make the platforms as “sticky” as possible.

It is truly addictive by design.

You are the only one who can help yourself.

You can’t trust the same corporations that got us into this mess to genuinely help us get out of it. They’re making record-breaking profits right now.

Remember: it’s against their business interest for you to stop using their product. You must save yourself.

Facebook’s own Zuckerburg once described their goals in a commencement speech “to create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose.” How could Facebook possibly give you a sense of purpose? Only you can find your own purpose, and it’s perhaps the most difficult question of your life, one that will evolve as you grow, but one that only you can ultimately answer.

It is about prioritizing and making a conscious choice as to how you want to spend your days because that is how you will spend your life.

Make the space for what it is that you truly want to be doing. Give it your best self, excuse-free, and love it deeply.

Going light is an experience. It’s a state of mind. In a world where we have become so used to our existence through hyper-connectivity, it’s a profound experience.

Going light is whatever you want it to be: Spending time with your kids, spending time with your craft, listening closely to your favorite album, reading that book you’ve been meaning to read for — let’s say — three years, learning something that you’ve always wanted to learn but somehow never had the time to pick up…

Going light is a process of reclamation — reclaiming our mind, our thoughts, our autonomy. It’s refreshing and rejuvenating. It’s peace of mind.

Going light empowers us to find balance with our relationship to technology. Unlike a thousand dollar digital detox vacation to some tropical island once a year, which is likely wonderful, going light is something that helps you find the peace you are craving regularly in your day to day life.

Going light is a choice. How will you choose to experience your life today?

There are a few simple steps you can take right this very moment, free of charge, that will make a big difference:

  • Make your phone B&W
  • Delete social media
  • Yes, Instagram too
  • Delete the email app
  • Delete your web browser*
  • Disable your camera*
  • Enable “Do Not Disturb”
  • Turn OFF your phone
  • Smash it to pieces…jk

*for Iphone: screentime > content & privacy > allowed apps

The Light Phone II is a phone that is designed to be used as little as possible.

Whether you are taking a break from your smartphone for the weekend, or for good, the Light Phone affords you quality time without distraction. It’s freedom.

It’s a phone built around intentionality and purpose. It’s not a dumb phone. It’s a phone that offers a few tools, through a completely custom typographic-based interface.

It’s a small phone with a matte, black and white E-ink screen. The screen feels nothing like a smartphone, which is not an accident, and it is perfect for viewing outdoors in direct sunlight.

It will never have social media, infinite feeds, email, or click-baity, over-sensationalized news. It’s a phone that isn’t interested in collecting and selling your data ever.

It’s a phone for humans.

The thing about the Light Phone, and maybe the whole digital wellness/mindfulness movement, is that there is not some magic pill that automatically creates balance in your life. In capitalism, and especially Silicon Valley, every product claims to be the answer. An immediate solution to your problems. The Light Phone does not necessarily make your life easier, and in fact, it will likely add friction and moments of withdrawal or boredom.

The Light Phone is not claiming to have answers. Rather it’s an attempt to be the hard questions. What will you do now that you don’t have your smartphone? How are you spending your life? It hopes to be an existential reminder that we are responsible, and therefore in control of our own lives.

We can choose to find balance, which often means finding the healthy outlets we have for our anxiety or passion. We must try to avoid the toxic parts of the Internet world of narcissistic, echo-chambered, ad-driven feeds as much as possible.

It took time for these companies to hijack our brains, and it’s definitely going to take time to undo all of that. Not only time, but willpower and a desire to free oneself from Big Tech. A lot of money has been invested to keep YOU addicted. Keep that in mind. This won’t be easy. But it may be highly rewarding.

A user once wonderfully described going light as, “a minor inconvenience for getting my life back.” Some of the inconveniences (not being able to always snap a photo, look up that one actor or distract oneself… etc) may seem insurmountable, but we’re here to argue they are not. There is another way to live outside the smartphone world of cheap thrills, and we can’t think of anything more worth it than getting your life back.

Ultimately it’s about shifting control. It’s about taking responsibility of your personal relationship to the Internet.

It doesn’t need to mean going off the grid forever (although it could!). It’s about using the Internet with intentionality. Be relentless with what you recognize as toxic for you and then cut it out. There’s no universal answer; you need to find what works and doesn’t work for you.

It’s also about setting expectations and boundaries. Prioritizing how you spend your time. We tend to feel the need to be on call and respond to anything that comes immediately; however, these expectations are unrealistic and can take a toll. You have every reason to feel open to talk to your partners, friends, family, colleagues, and bosses to find modes of communication that make sense for your relationships.

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it something eventually will happen…

…Our life has become so economic and practical in its orientation that, as you get older, the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you. Where is your bliss station? You have to try to find it…

…I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay there with it and don’t let anyone throw you off.”

From Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, a book of transcribed conversations with Bill Moyers in 1985 and 1986. These particular passages can be found on pages 115 and 146. Here is a video of some of this passage as well.

If we can do everything, anytime, from one device, is anything special?

It’s almost funny that they are still called smartphones, when the “phone” seems to be the least important feature.

A smartphone can do everything, but that doesn’t mean it does everything well. The smartphone may be able to email, but the full size keyboard of a computer is more suitable. It may have a camera, but it doesn’t have a viewfinder or focus ring.

It’s the hard to describe “soul” that some of our favorite objects inherently have. It’s an emotional connection that has almost nothing to do with features, but the pure joy using the object. It’s a sentimental relationship to the objects that we use, the objects we live with, and it’s powerful. “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,” as John Culkin put it.

A lot of the apps on our smartphones are analogies of real objects. Like an e-book with fake pages flipping, most of a smartphone is just imitations of objects. Perhaps we’re being too romantic about our favorite objects, but we think you know what we mean.

Have you ever found yourself in a perfect situation, maybe on vacation with the people you love, watching a beautiful sunset, only to pull out your phone and remind yourself of some other fun thing that you could be doing instead?

-Kurt Vonnegut

If we never stop to appreciate the precious moments of life, to realize that there is no place in the world we’d rather be at this very moment, then we are never really content or deeply satisfied. We’re in a constant search for the next thing, for something better. In a world with infinite new content, it’s harder than ever to remember to stop and smell the roses. It’s so freeing to think, “I couldn’t care less about what’s going on anywhere else, because I’m here right now and this is wonderful.”

Going light means doing whatever it is that you love to do the most, undistracted and intentionally.

There is, however, going to be an initial anxiety that pretty much everyone we know has experienced. Tapping your pockets, phantom vibrations, the withdrawal can feel very real. Shocking, actually.

Cal Newport makes a really good point about having something to do in mind before you ditch your smartphone. Something that you can jump right into once you go light.

You can try going light now, just leave your smartphone at home and go on a twenty minute walk. You don’t need to buy our phone to try that. Try a whole afternoon or weekend. Or don’t! We’re not here to force it upon anyone, although it’s definitely something we strongly believe in.


special thanks to Dan Fox for collaborating with us on this!