Nothing sparks excitement in tech again – will new generations listen?
Nothing makes smart phones fun again. I wish I could convert. Plus: the Star Wars connection.
29 Aug 2023

This is an outtake from our new newsletter Observations. Sign up to get the full newsletter, including behind-the-scenes, reading lists, and more straight to your inbox.

One of my greatest achievements as a father has been transferring my obsession with Star Wars to my 12-year-old daughter Sonja. 

Star Wars fandom is not something that can be cultivated at a grown age. There is simply too much illogic in the storytelling, too many plot holes in the now three versions of trilogies that have been produced over the years, starting with the legendary Episode IV: A New Hope from 1977. I have yet to meet any adult who has resonated with any Star Wars movie or TV series that has not been spellbound before the age of 15. 

Star Wars is a piece of childhood magic. Once you have been bitten, preferably around 10 or 12, it will forever be part of your personality. That happened to be, watching the first trilogy sometime in the late 1980s, probably on a rented “movie box” from our local video store, an actual rented VCR machine that took you at least one hour to hook up to your TV at home. 

Star Wars was an unbelievable adventure. A space saga that took a boy’s imagination out to the stars and galaxies, and made you dream far beyond the realities of a small town in northern Sweden.

I’m aware that I can’t really argue with a grown man’s reason about the necessities of being i Star Wars nerd, except to say that few things that can spark a child’s excitement like rewatching one of the movies, or, as in the case of the last few years, anticipating the launch of another TV series, like The Mandalorian, Andor, and Ahsoka. And I do believe it is good for your health to keep a little childish excitement in your life. 

In order to not have to enjoy the expanding plethora of Star Wars alone, I knew I needed to brainwash my youngest daughter into it at an early age. I tried with her older sister, my stepdaughter, but failed. I brought her to the cinema to see every instalment of the latest trilogy, starring Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, with appearances by the original cast: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. But since the first one premiered after her 19th birthday in 2015, it was a shot in the dark. She was simply too old to get hooked. 

With Sonja, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake, and at a you age I started to feed her with Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated series from 2008–2010 that was actually written and produced by the Star Wars creator himself, George Lucas. This provided a perfect primer, getting her to know essential characters like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, before turning her on the feature films. 

Tech creatives

I think about this when I get my hands on Nothing Phone (2), the latest brainchild of the Swedish-Chinese hardware entrepreneur Carl Pei. 

Consumer technology can spark the same kind of childish excitement as a new Star Wars movie. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, following the evolution of tech devices was a constant stream of wonder and awe — from Game Boys and VCRs to digital cameras and Nokia cellphones (Snake, anyone?). This only accelerated when Steve Jobs came back to Apple in the late 90s and started to dropping mind-boggling products like the first batch of colourful iMacs and, in 2001, the jaw-dropping iPod – a device that could swallow my entire record collection into one card-deck-sized device, ultimately paving the way for the transformation of the music industry. 

Throughout the aughts and even into the 10s, new consumer technology could still become a part of the cultural zeitgeist: starting with the iPhone in 2007. But in recent years, it’s obvious that smartphones have become an everyday utility. It’s impossible at a glance to separate an iPhone 14 from a Galaxy S23. And the cultural discourse has moved on to talk about the less-than-positive second-order effects that technology has on our lives, ranging from our decreased attention span to election-tampering and Instagram-induced teen depression. 

Tech, it seems, has lost its spark. 

Which is why Nothing feels so fresh in 2023. It’s the first time since, I don’t know, the white headphones for the iPod, that a consumer technology product feels… cool!  The typography is carefully curated, and the packaging is just as minimalistic as its bespoke Android interface. And then there is the seductively transparent shell, with its patented glyph interface – a set of unique sound bites that flashes in intricate ways that can best be described as the R2-D2 of phone signals. 

Yes, it evokes childish excitement! 

This is by design. In a recent interview with The Verge, Pei admits that he wants to “make things more exciting”. 

”When I was younger, Apple used to have these epic product launches — I grew up in Europe, so I had to stay up overnight to watch. And it was worth it because each product was such a big leap forward compared to the last one. And it just made you feel like everything was heading toward a really exciting trajectory. […] It felt like back then, you know, 10 years ago, society as a whole was way more optimistic about where technology was going. But in the last couple of years, that sentiment, at least for me, has pretty much disappeared.”

Pei collaborated with Swedish product designer Jesper Kouthoofd for the design of Nothing. Kouthoofd, the eponymous founder of Teenage Engineering, another hardware company with a unique sense of style, that brought back an analogue 1970s sensibility to music tools like synthesizers and speakers (their recent dictaphone is on my wishlist for my birthday next week). Side note: our interview with Jesper Kouthoofd from 2022, done by our great collaborator Ilenia Martini, is our most-read story ever on, a testament to Kouthoofd’s cult following. 

With credible collaborators like Kouthoofd and a war chest filled with VC cash from funds like Swedish EQT Ventures, Carl Pei seems to have the right tools to pull off what no Android phone has ever done: to evoke enough coolness to convince die-hard Apple fans like myself to cross over to Android land. 

He almost succeeds with me. If it weren’t for Apple’s carefully crafted walled garden of notes, photos, passwords, and other data that has been built up over two decades, I would switch in a heartbeat.

It’s just so damn cool. 

And therein lies Carl Pei’s biggest challenge. Apple is just too deeply integrated into my digital life for me to even consider it. Which I think opens up for other categories. For example, I’d love a smartwatch from Nothing. It’s not as digitally integrated and the wrist is prime real estate for status products. 

Other than that, Nothing might just have to await the next generation of consumers, that isn’t too tied to Apple. Observing my daughter’s enthusiastic reaction to the new Nothing Phone (2), he might just have a shot. 

“Dad, it feels just like something out of Star Wars!”


• We are running a series of e-mails to our main list explaining the ethos behind our Agency business. Learn more here.

• I will be in Oslo on September 8 for Designers Saturday, moderating a talk for Minus Furniture. More here. Let me know if you are in town, I would love to meet up!

• We are working on a new podcast format, featuring long-form interviews with big thinkers and innovators. Who would you like me to interview? Email me at [email protected].


• Legendary magazine writer Gay Talese chronicles the making of his most famous story Frank Sinatra has a cold. Talese was a huge inspiration when I started out as a writer, and I once interviewed him in New York. Listen here.

The problem with Life Cycle Assessments in fashion.

Olli Kähkönen from Nordic Bio Products Group are working on an innovation that might solve the hard task of recycling polycotton (polyester and cotton fabrics). From Issue 4. Meet Olli at the Transformation Conference this week.

• During weekends: Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson

See you next week!