The Light Phone 2: A Deviation from Communitainment

As part of Business Insider’s “Your Brain on Apps” installments that investigate the heightened dependency on smartphones in our culture, the site recently introduced a new product that has capitalized on the awareness of time spent on smartphones. The Light Phone 2, while still in its prototype phase, defies the norm in an age of increasing dependency on social media apps by eliminating access to these modes of “communitainment,” a term used to describe modern communication that is centered around entertainment.

The first edition of The Light Phone that was released in 2015 tested this idea with a product that exclusively allowed users to make calls and tell the time. The newest edition, however, includes additional functional features such as texting, map and ride access, an alarm, and the capability to possess a music playlist. Despite these additions to the latest version of the phone, the company has declared its commitment to the distribution of a mobile device that is strictly a functional tool rather than a mode of entertainment.

The name of the product itself is a reflection of the company’s effort to promote “going light” by remodeling phones to limit distractions- predominantly with regard to social media apps that have proven to be becoming increasingly addictive each year. In fact, the average consumer spends 5 hours on their mobile devices each day and 92% of this time is spent on apps. Even more striking is the annual growth in media consumption: In 2014, the average user spent 46 minutes/day consuming media in apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Spotify. This figure jumped to 96 minutes/day in 2015 and then reached 133 mins/day by 2016 according to a study conducted by Flurry.

The shift towards “communitainment” by technology companies is ultimately perpetuated by the psychological techniques app creators use to capture the attention of their users. An example of this is the push notifications that are purposely sent out to Instagram users several times a week to attract their attention and act as reminders that there is new media they are missing out on by closing the app.

Another technique formerly used just by slot machines, but now by social media apps as well for the shared purpose of hooking users, is the “variable ratio schedule.” While users don’t know how much they can expect to win through engagement, the mere opportunity to win combined with frequent small payouts tend to successfully hook them on the slot machines. Similarly, swiping down on the home page of social media sites like Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, introduces a spinning wheel that indicates that the app is loading more content. The anticipation of what’s to come keeps many users on their phone constantly reloading the page and awaiting the arrival of new content.

Other apps “hook” users through rewards for frequent use. With this technique, failure to check into the app at least once a day may result in losing out on a potential reward. The Snapstreak on Snapchat, for example, has engrained a subconscious addiction to the app in its users through the opportunity to maintain a Snapstreak. Failure to send a Snapchat to a friend for 24 hours terminates the streak between the pair. This generates an obligation in users to stay connected to friends over Snapchat. In reality, the only implication is losing the glorified number or fire emoji that sits in the margin of your conversation, but Snapstreaks have become ingrained in the value of the app and serve as bragging rights within the millennial population.

The promotional video on The Light Phone’s web page attempts to address a terrifyingly accurate negative implication of this prevalent global dependency on social media: “If how we spend our days is always connected, staring at our screens, well that will be how we spend the rest of our lives.” The increasing dependency on our smartphones is now facing a contradictory parallel movement with companies like The Light Phone who seek to bring awareness to the concern around how much time we spend connecting with others through screens. With this in mind, The Light Phone 2 is an interesting perspective purchase worthy of consideration. The phone can be pre-ordered for an estimated delivery date in April of 2019. However, it comes at a steep price of $250. Have we reached the point where we are willing to pay $250 for a product to intervene in our addiction?