Gen Z Gives Up Smartphones for Dumb Ones

girl with flip phones

Here’s a quick way to age yourself — remember your first qwerty keyboard phone?

Whether it was a Nokia, a Motorola Razr, now known as a “dumb phone,” or a more upscale Blackberry or Sidekick, aka a “feature phone,” these devices were at one time all the rage but still relatively basic.

Fast forward to 2023, and it’s all about the latest Apple iPhone or Android that is more than just a phone. Smartphones today have transformed into a comprehensive production tool capable of capturing stunning, professional-grade imagery and video footage. With the ability to connect to the internet and access a world of information, everything is at your fingertips.

But while that sounds like the way of the future, and it’s probably safe to say dumb phones may be losing popularity globally, the lower-tech trend is some gaining momentum in the U.S. In fact, digitally native Generation Z consumers are looking to go back in time for a moment of low stimulation — and what older consumers would view as nostalgia.

Testament to the trend is the news that Nokia — yes, they still exist —reportedly sold tens of thousands of phones each month in 2022.

According to HMD Global, the U.S. saw a rise in feature flip phone sales in 2022. The finding follows a Counterpoint Research report that nearly 80% of feature phone sales in 2022 were from the Middle East, Africa, and India.

“I think people are going to go out more and more with flip phones just because it’s so fun and nostalgic and honestly a vibe,” 18-year-old college student Reagan Boeder said in an interview with CNN.

‘Dumb Phone’ vs. ‘Feature Phone’ 

A “dumb phone” is just slang to describe a mobile phone that has limited or basic features, in contrast to a smartphone. A dumb phone typically lacks advanced features such as internet connectivity and touchscreen displays and is designed primarily for voice calls and text messaging.

On the other hand, a “feature phone” is a type of mobile phone that has more advanced features than a basic or “dumb” phone, but not as many features as a smartphone. Feature phones often have designed primarily for voice calls and text messaging but may also offer additional features such as a camera, music player and basic apps.

Why Old Phones Are Back 

The trend toward using “dumb phones” can be attributed in part to the rising awareness of the harmful effects of social media and digital devices on mental health. Research has revealed that excessive use of smartphones can cause anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. As a result, many members of Generation Z are acknowledging the importance of a digital detox and are turning toward using basic phones as a viable solution.

“I think you can see it with certain Gen Z populations — they’re tired of the screens,” said Jose Briones, dumb phone influencer and moderator of the subreddit “r/dumbphones.” “They don’t know what is going on with mental health and they’re trying to make cutbacks.”

Another reason for the shift is the growing awareness of the environmental impact of smartphones. Smartphones have a short lifespan, require a lengthier recycling process, leaving many to end up in landfills. Dumb phones, on the other hand, have a longer lifespan and are easier to recycle.

Moreover, the cost of smartphones is becoming prohibitive for many young people. High-end smartphones can cost over $1,000, and the cost of data plans and accessories can quickly add up. Dumb phones, on the other hand, tend to be much more affordable, with some models costing less than $50. On Amazon, a Nokia 8210 can be purchased for $70.50.

It’s important to note that the trend toward dumb phones is not a rejection of technology altogether. Instead, it’s a recognition that the constant stream of notifications, social media updates, and other digital distractions can be overwhelming and harmful. By switching to a dumb phone, Gen Zers can take a step back from the constant barrage of digital information and focus on the things that matter most to them.

Facilitating the Trend 

Punkt and Light are among the companies that are responding to this trend, offering devices designed for people who want to reduce their screen time and social media use. Influencers on YouTube are promoting these phones, with a range of videos showcasing their features and benefits.

Joe Hollier, co-founder of Light, has explained that the company’s aim with the Light phone is not to produce a “dumb” phone, but rather to create a more deliberate and refined phone — a premium, minimalist device that is not inherently against technology. The idea is to make conscious choices about when and how to use different aspects of technology, in a way that enhances one’s quality of life.

The ‘Old Is New Again’ Generation

While Gen Z seems to be bringing back dumb phones, this isn’t the first time they’ve done this. In fact, Gen Z has famously brought back Polaroid cameras due to their unique and nostalgic qualities.

The move makes sense as Gen Z tends to lean toward experiences that feel more authentic and genuine. The Polaroid’s vintage style and physicality of the photos offer a sense of authenticity and worth that digital images may lack.

As Gen Z revived the dumb phone, the feature phone and Polaroid camera, there’s no telling what they’ll bring back next. But it will likely be a product that emphasis authenticity, brings peace of mind and allows for self-growth. Any takes on what that might be?

We can’t help wondering if indicted FTX founder Sam Bankman Fried got the dumb phone memo as he was recently granted non-internet-connected flip phone privileges.

See also: DOJ Wants Bankman-Fried to Use 1990s Flip Phone Technology