Maybe people should be less worried about draining the life out of their smartphone batteries and more concerned about their smartphones draining the life out of them? That’s a notion that Aubrey Anderson, founder and CEO of Monohm, would probably agree with.
How do I know? He thinks that smartphones could stand to be a bit dumber; a bit less connected. Does he hate smartphones? No. But when I asked him what was wrong with today’s de facto smartphone experience, he said, “Connectivity in my smartphone has made it so that I’m effectively always at work if I have my phone with me. Even in silent mode I feel that buzz. It takes my attention away from where I am in the physical world, and like an addict, I find myself making an excuse to go to the bathroom to check it.”
But, unlike most smartphone addicts, Aubrey set out to change the equation by inventing what he considers a post-smartphone device called Runcible.
You can tell just by looking at it that Runcible was designed to be different. But the differences are more than skin-deep. As Aubrey puts it, Runcible is the alternative to the increasingly invasive and commodified smartphone, whose app-centric approach distracts us from our lives instead of helping us live them.
Fair enough. But, I asked, will people really be able to pry themselves away from their smartphones to use a device like Runcible? Aubrey’s response was nothing short of a compelling sales pitch:
“One of the best measures of the gravity of addiction is to look at how much time passes between when a person wakes up and when they smoke their first cigarette or take their first drink, etc.
Think about how much time passes between when you wake up and when you check your phone. How much value are you getting out of it? What might you be doing instead with your early mornings?
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a friend recount that familiar story of when they were traveling or on vacation to a remote place that had no cell coverage and it was SO FANTASTIC!
We think life is better with connectivity, but life is also for living! The ultimate achievement of a technology should be to become invisibly integrated into human behavior. We haven’t seen much progress toward that with smartphones yet.”
Aside from being a less-connected connected device, Runcible has another card up it’s sleeve: it’s designed to be an electronic heirloom: an object that belongs to a family for generations. In this way, Runcible is forward thinking—just not in the way that most technology companies think about the future.
I pressed Aubrey about whether or not a gadget would—could—survive as a family heirloom. His response, that consumer electronics today have artificially short lifespans and that Moor’s law is clearly slowing down, does make a good point, in my mind.
“Why must smartphones today be glued and soldered together? Why, if any one part breaks in the next 8-14 months, must we be obliged to go buy an entirely new smartphone?” he says. “How much better at displaying Instagram is our new quad core 1.8 GHz phone is than our dual-core 1.6 GHz phone was? If I’ve taken away anything from Mobile World Congress this year, it’s that we are entering an era where specs are no longer a viable selling point for devices and it’s becoming about design.”
Runcible is designed to let you maintain and deepen your relationship with the object, even as parts of it are upgraded or repaired. In the worst case where something catastrophic happens to the device, the back cover, with its patina and scratches echoing the story of your personal experience with the device, can be carried forward and the brain recycled and replaced.
When I saw the Runcible’s circular design, I immediately thought of a Jony Ive’s recent statement in The New Yorker blasting Android Wear watches that were round: “When a huge part of the function is lists, a circle doesn’t make any sense.” When I asked Aubrey about this, he responded: “If a huge part of the function of your device is lists, then I would agree. And that is exactly not our point.”
In many ways, Runcible seems like a device that points to the past, rather than to the future. In Aubrey’s mind—why not?! “Runcible is modeled on objects that humans have connected with, been calmed by, and carried close to them for thousands of years. In the more recent past you have the compass and the pocket watch, but our relationship with this form goes back a lot longer: think of the Antikythera Mechanism or the calming smooth stone in your hand. Culture and connectivity are changing at an unprecedented and often breakneck pace. A little connection to the past can’t be a bad thing in a world like ours.”
I asked Aubrey if there was anything else he’d like readers to know about the device. “Yes, you can make calls on it if you need to. We just encourage you not to feel as though you have to.”
Personally, I’m intrigued by Runcible and it’s underlying principles. I think it looks very nice but am curious as to how it will function as an actual phone (is it comfortable holding a circle up to your head?). I hope so. Like Aubrey, I think there is a need for less-connected connected devices in our modern society. The question is: will society accept these transplants—or reject them?