The founder of Punkt. is on a mission. He doesn’t plan to take over the world of technology but he has a pretty clear vision of what he wants to achieve with his brand. And that is … taming the technology and putting it right back where is started – at the service of human beings. I talk to Petter Neby about his life after Punkt. was launched, the fundamental role of his stepdaughter in the whole story and, in the process, find out that he really isn’t after material possessions. It is the idea that possesses him. Read on.
Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below. Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 14 (currently on sale).
Let’s talk about Punkt. Did you have an „aha” moment that led you to Punkt.?
It’s been a long journey but there was indeed a clear moment which led me to Punkt. I have a stepdaughter, who is actually turning 26 now. But when she was a few years younger, in her late teens, and being of the first generation born into the internet, I noticed that she was always on a smartphone, always connected. It was difficult to make her understand the importance of not always being “on” and that was certainly the kind of an „aha” moment for me.
But we are told that the generation Y cannot function without smartphones and being always connected. Their whole world revolves around being “on”. Their smartphones are their most valuable possessions.
It is not just the generation of young people. I learned how poor we are, our generation. We think we are better at controlling technology than we actually are. Yet some of us are as bad as the teenagers or 20-somethings – in many cases the central element of our lives is a smartphone. So our generation has been caught with our pants down, thinking to be in control, but in fact, every so often we see ourselves in restaurants having dinner with our partner, and we are both in deep conversation with … our devices. Of course, the advantage is that we have some anchor of knowledge about what it is like to live and to be present “in a moment”. However, the younger generation also sees what is happening and they are able to see some damage, see friends having anxiety problems. I really understood this when some of them came to me (after I already launched the cordless phone) and said – “Why don’t you make just a simple mobile phone”? These are some early signs that people are getting a reality check.
How do you market your mobile phone?
We certainly market it as ‘take your life back’ or ‘get the conversation back’ device. But we don’t want to say how and when people should use it, there are several different options. I use it to make calls and a phone that can be always on, even after office hours. The phone helps me define when I work and when I don’t.
Does that mean that only your friends and family have access to this phone?
This is where the next step comes in. I have one number for my professional life and one for my private life. What I do is take my smartphone when I travel and forward that number to my Punkt. phone. So all my calls will go there, but during the weekend I will just switch off that call forwarding, so I don’t receive professional calls over the weekend. I try to keep a balance between my working and private hours and my phone helps me do that. The nice thing about the phone conversation is that you get things done, because you get an immediate response and understanding. Meanwhile, when you email someone, your message will just sit there and only when it comes back, you understand how people understood you. A spoken conversation makes a big difference.
I do believe in conversations. A lot of people though don’t know how to talk anymore.
It’s true. We are very fond of the writer Sherry Turkle and her books, in which she touches upon technology and conversation. Her first book was about technology, the greatest thing on earth, in the the second one she was starting to see that maybe there are some issues with the importance of technology, the third was about what is really happening with the way we communicate, from toddlers to teenagers. She notices how so many young people don’t know how to talk. I do lectures at universities, which I like a lot, and the first thing I say to my students is „Switch off all your phones”. If you want me to travel from Florence to Milan or to London to have a lecture, you might as well respect me by switching off your phone.
So, do you feel like you are launching a revolution or like you’re a part of an evolution?
Well, there’s the business side of course, but the bigger picture is the purpose. I feel it’s not a revolution, it’s too big a word, but I’m a preacher of an important issue. And I’m just one of several preachers, except rather than writing books I make products. I love technology but I’m in disagreement with the current evolution of technology. For me it’s all about making a public dialogue about the issues we are facing sociologically. Technology is a serious sociological issue.
My last question to you is what is your most valuable material possession and why?
I don’t know. You know, my father is a collector – as a result, one of the things I really don’t want to happen to me is to be owned by objects. There’s nothing really that I would have to rescue from a burning house.
And it wouldn’t be the phone?
I couldn’t say that, could I? You know, these phones are my children, so I’m so fond of them. We only make things that we think are important, we don’t make crap. We only design things that we believe add value and are something that should lasts for a very long time. I’m very fond of my fixed line phone – every time I come to the office and I see the phone, that was launched already 4 years ago, it continues to grow on me how beautiful an object it is.
So, La vita e bella for Punkt., si?
La vita a veramente bella, salute!
Special thanks to Petter Neby, for an enjoyable and inspiring conversation.
Photo credits: Punkt.