When Joe Hollier originally pitched the idea for the Light Phone, he couldn't have been facing a tougher crowd. The 25-year-old School of Visual Arts graduate had been invited to join a Google incubator called 30 Weeks, which assembled a group of designers and digital-startup founders around the idea that artists like Hollier should be creating companies. "When they asked me to be in it, I was like, 'Why are they asking me? I'm not a tech person,'" he explains, sitting at the kitchen table of his eclectic apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, which is flooded with morning light. "I kind of had no idea what I was getting into, but I had this curious itch to do something bigger."
The Light Phone, which is "a credit-card-sized cell phone designed to be used as little as possible," was inspired in part by his experience with the group, which encouraged participants to focus on apps. "I made this sketch of a smartphone that said 'Anything can happen, but nothing will.' And that was sort of how I felt," he says. "So I started really studying how I was using my phone, and how other people were using theirs. I felt that everyone was habitually overwhelmed and craving escape."
To achieve that remove from smartphone overstimulation, the Light Phone uses a cloud platform that is controllable from an app on your regular phone, enabling you to choose which calls are forwarded; you receive those calls using either prepaid minutes or an unlimited plan provided by Light. Sounds complicated, it's anything but. To date, Hollier and cofounder Kaiwei Tang have raised nearly half a million dollars on Kickstarter to make the idea of a less invasive cell phone a reality. Clearly Hollier was not alone in his digital anxiety.
But Hollier is no Luddite, either. His own creative work utilizes plenty of digital elements, from video to animation to web design, and each of his projects seems to carefully blend the handmade and the technological. Hollier also makes collages and runs a skateboard company, Five on That—admittedly fairly analog endeavors that he plans on getting back to at some point in the future. "The idea for the Light Phone was kind of simple. I'm sure anyone could have thought of it," he says. "I guess it's more just being nutty enough to want to commit two years of my life to seeing it through and executing it." He points to a hulking piece of equipment in the corner of the room—an old Risograph high-speed printer. "I just bought that giant thing. And I'm really excited to properly play with it."
The Light Phone, $100, thelightphone.com to pre-order (ships June 2016).