Imagine if the hit TV series Friends were to air today.
Rachel would be at Central Perk, sitting silently as she scrolls through Amazon on her iPhone.
Across from her at the table, Monica is taking a food selfie of a cheesecake slice and posting it to Instagram.
Ross is on the sofa with Joey and Chandler. They are all staring at their phones.
Ross is checking Gmail while sipping on a cup of coffee. Joey is busy fiddling with Tinder. And Chandler is giggling to himself as he delivers one of his trademark witty jokes — via WhatsApp group chat.
Phoebe? She probably doesn’t own a smart phone. She’d just be sitting at the table, chewing on her golden blonde hair.
THE ONE WITHOUT THE PHONE
Luckily for the creators of Friends, the show ended back in 2004. A few years before Steve Jobs revolutionised the mobile phone.
“Honestly, I don’t know what we would do,” said actress Jennifer Aniston, who played Rachel, when asked about a possible Friends reboot back in 2016.
She added: “We weren’t checking Facebooks and Instagrams. We were in a room together, in a coffee shop together. We were talking, having conversations. We have lost that.”
Humans have never been more connected with each other than they are today. But the same technology has created a population of Gollums — self-absorbed creatures corrupted by the power at our fingertips.We simply don’t spend enough time talking to each other.
Kevin Cook, a UX designer based in New York, wants to change this.
And he’s developed something called Socialight to help.
Simply put — it’s a lamp which only lights up when you put your phone on top of it.
“The goal is to create spaces that would allow us to create deeper connections and strengthened relationships with each other,” Cook tells The Scoop.
ONE GADGET TO RULE THEM ALL
The Socialight was first conceived as part of a school project.
“I’m interested in the convergence of physical and digital products, and how new tools for interaction can shape behaviour, positively,” he says.
The idea behind a phone-activated table lamp was to create dining experiences free from distraction while packed with meaningful interactions.
It was inspired by the popular Phone Stacking game which hit the limelight in 2012.
The game works by getting participants to put their phones face down at the centre of the table at the start of their meal. Whoever picks up their phone first has to foot the bill. If no one grabs a phone — everyone pays for their own dinner.
“The phone stacking game is an effective method for creating a distraction-free environment, but we need a reminder to actually initiate this process, hence the lamp,” Kevin explains.
The Socialight has a built-in magnetometer to detect a phone’s electromagnetic field when it’s placed on the platform — this turns on the light. “The product is really simple, the light poses as a physical reminder that we’ve both agreed that we’re here to share a meal together,” says Kevin.
The sudden loss of light preventing you from reading the menu or tucking in to your appetiser also serves another purpose — it acts as your conscience.
“Similar to the Phone Stacking game, there’s a consequence — you lose the illumination necessary to eat,” Kevin says. “I really like this playful kind of interaction. I like to imagine how an object can shame you, like a parent would for being rude.”
Think of it as the ‘Jiminy Cricket’ of table lamps.
Young children have short attention spans and can quickly turn into less-than-desirable diners if not entertained.
While we think we are doing ourselves, and perhaps everyone else in the restaurant, a favour by distracting them with their favourite YouTube videos — at what cost does this ‘peace and quiet’ come?
It sounds dramatic but you could be short-changing yourself on conversations, laughter, and more of those magical moments when you lock eyes with your child.
Also, how can your kids learn to appreciate food when they aren’t even looking at what they are eating?
But Mums and Dads have an infinite amount of tasks to complete before dinner time even arrives — so it’s fair to question whether people actually need to have face-to-face interaction at the end of a long day?
The creator of Socialight believes “it’s a matter of want and should.”
“McDonald’s hamburgers are delicious, but no one ever feels good about themselves after they’ve stuffed their face with a Big Mac, Coke and fries,” he says.
Kevin, who has background in Industrial Design, claims mobile phone designs are now so sophisticated it has made it doubly-difficult to put them down.
This is a problem because humans are “much happier, more satisfied, more confident, and patient when we feel connected” with each other.
And he also cites the work of acclaimed author Sherry Turkle who wrote in her book Reclaiming Conversation: “With children, the best predictor of success later on in life is the number of meals shared with their families.”
But just how bad are things really?
It’s not like we’re staring at our phones and laptops all day while YouTube and ‘educational’ apps play nanny to our children, right?
A recent survey found people in Singapore spent an average of 12 hours and 42 minutes a day on digital devices. Of this figure, a daily average of three hours and 12 minutes were spent on mobile phones.
“It highlights the problem even more. We need to ask ourselves: Is this how we want to spend our lives?”
If your answer is a resounding “No”, then there’s hope in the form of a shining lamp at the end of the dark tunnel.
Growing media interest in the Socialight has paved the way for plans to bring it to market.
“I think a lot of people could benefit,” Kevin adds.