Day 24: This is the Life!

Having got the Panel mostly sorted, now I can turn my attention back to the core product offering. One of the partnerships that came to mind was The School of Life. I found them while researching David Dewane for our meeting on Wednesday. Their work and products looked fascinating.

But I chose to put them aside temporarily. We could come back and look at them once Mouse Books was fully catered for. Which definitely seems to be the case now. Their catchphrase is written as 'Developing Emotional Intelligence' on their website. Not the first thing one would usually think of for a phone detox offering.

What really caught my attention was some of their merchandise. Laurence often implied something through his standard pre and post video questions. He would ask 'one person you met, or place you visited that you wouldn't have normally met/ visited'. The implication is that the only reason we don't meet new people is because we're too engrossed on our phones. That's not the case.

One of Melissa Harris' assigned readings is Piskorski- a Social Strategy. A central idea there is of 'social failure'- interactions that may have benefitted both parties, but still don't come to happen. The reasons are several- uncertainty, potential danger from the other person, but primarily a fear of looking stupid in front of a complete stranger in case they 'reject' you or don't reciprocate your friendliness or interest. That's inevitable. But our resistance to starting conversations with strangers comes from a much deeper place than just a tech addiction.

Hell, I've had to push myself so much to get to where I am now on that front. Darn lizard brain! And even now, there are times I kick myself for not chatting with the other customer browsing items in a store or museum right next to me. It's simple, but it's not easy. And simply putting a flip phone in someone's hand for a week isn't going to overturn millennia of programming in primitive parts of our brains.

That being said, some interventions can definitely reduce the likelihood of looking stupid. One is to wear T-Shirts that indicate some group identity to get a conversation started. Like seeing someone else on the street with a UChicago T-Shirt. In the same way, what prompts could we provide to get people talking?

FWFP is unlikely to reach anything close to the brand recognition of UChicago. What might work better is some prompts for conversation- fodder, if we can call it that.

I found myself quite amused with just how far the School of Life had gone with extending their brand. Of course, in another reading of Melissa Harris, we spoke of how people use brands to tell others a story about themselves. These School of Life guys are killing it on that front- emotionally intelligent, stoic,

Take this for example- a Conversation Menu! Sure, it may look a tad too controlling, somewhat like those 30 questions for someone to fall in love with you OR An overcontrolling participant in a first date. playfulness is neverything we do?

But seriously, the questions are amazing! I wish I'd used them the last time I had friends over for lunch on a Sunday. We would have built so much deeper mutual knowledge.

Good conversation is something I've aspired to build as a skill for several years now. I remember 15 years ago, I almost embarassingly was chosen as the Chief Guest at a school function in Thane, where our family friend was a teacher. I was barely a few years older than the students I was addressing. And then they took me on a tour of their ongoing book sale. They offered me this book- The Art of Conversation for free. I don't even recall who the publisher was. That was when I as 16. I'm turning 30 soon. And great conversation is still hard to come by.

I knew I was in love with these products. I kind of kicked myself to not be the one to devise them myself, given how much I think about these topics on any given day.

So like Laurence was saying earlier, maybe these could be part of a model where the Challenge Takers get to pick and choose what goes into their book. David had suggested a different box each month- a kind of recurring revenue model. I don't know how much that fits into the philosophy of the challenge. You're supposed to take the challenge once and then get on with life, seeing it through new eyes.

The only exception is the founder himself- Laurence. He's about to finish a year of doing this challenge every month. So it could be a recurring idea. But who would want to keep coming back, without the emotional attachment that comes with generating that idea itself? Certainly a question to delve deeper into in the coming months.

Now coming back to the original question- would games like this help you have conversations with people you wouldn't normally meet? Probably not. They would certainly make the existing conversations a lot more meaningful. I was thinking of Yuxin's example of everybody in China she met being busy on their phones at the dining table.

Wrest that from someone's grasp, then what are you left with? One of the major philosophies in this project is that if you take something away, you must have something to take its place. So imagine a family suddenly plunged into awkward silence at the dinner table. Because they don't really know how to engage with each other any more. A forgotten art.

Maybe in a situation like that, these conversation cards could be a gold mine. And I'm increasingly thinking that our project recommendations should be based on the self-diagnosis the users fill out at the start of the project. We could even throw in some 3-d animations to make it more engaging. This one is particularly relevant for Yuxin's example of the family:

And then there are others in the broader context of just conversations in social gatherings:

Finally, here's something for a slightly different audience- couples. Bagby's products already seem geared towards that direction. Like putting thr phone away before entering the bedroom. A container/ case for the phoen for overnight use. An alarm clock to replace it. This could work for improve the quality of not just sleep (like what Bagby products offer), but the quality of the sex itself.

The others- such as Eastern Philosophy, etc don't seem as directly relevant at this point. Sure, there is a major overlap with the idea of mindfulness, which is another area to explore. But for now, I think this is enough.

What we'd need to explore is how to make any such collaborations happen. And if so, then at what scale. I'm not sure folks would want to shell out an extra $15 justfor a set of cards, when the phone itself doesn't cost that much more. Only buying in bulk could bring down the rates to a manageable rate. And as all of Team Smartphone Detox knows at this point, we're not really anywhere near that level of scale. Neither do we have a clear roadmap of how to get there.

I'd like to think the mist on the road will clear itself ahead as we go ahead. But as of now I don't know how we're going to do. Let's see how it goes.