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‘Dumb phones’ on the rise in U.S. as Gen Z looks to curb screen time

File - A stack of old flip phones on a dark background. Getty Images

“Literally everyone and their mom is going to have a flip phone in 2023,” heralded a TikTok influencer late last year, brandishing an AT&T Cingular Flip phone with a green patterned skin. “I love it. Seriously guys, best investment.”

It seems her prediction may have been accurate, according to a CNBC report that found that sales of “dumb phones” are on the rise in the U.S.

Flip phones and slide phones — feature phones, as they’re called nowadays — were all the rage in the 2000s before BlackBerrys and iPhones burst onto the scene. Since then, the North American market has been dominated by smartphones, with their sleek, button-less design and ever-growing screen sizes.

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Coupled with the rise of social media apps that use algorithms and endless scroll designs to capture our attention for as long as possible, Canadians are spending more and more time looking at their phones.

But it seems that a growing consumer group in the U.S. is pushing back on that phenomenon, and are purposefully ditching their smartphones for “dumber” flip phones.

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HMD Global, the maker of Nokia phones, reported strong sales of feature phones in 2022, up from years prior. CNBC reported that the company is selling tens of thousands of feature phones every month, and that growth isn’t coming internationally, it’s coming from the U.S. market.

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

The r/dumbphones community has about 18,000 members who mostly post photos of their dumb phone setups, share tips on how to dumb down their existing smartphones and get tech support for their sometimes obscure feature phones.

One community member wrote that his son became a dumb phone user “because he has an addictive personality and will waste countless hours surfing the net when he has a smartphone.”

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For many dumb phone users in the community, it seems having a phone with limited technical capabilities has allowed them to use the tech more purposefully. Perhaps the easiest way to curb screen time and doom-scrolling tendencies is to remove the temptation altogether.

On TikTok, videos tagged with #flipphone have amassed more than 650 million views. Many of the videos deal with the aesthetic appeal of having the 2000s-era piece of technology, in line with the popular “Y2K” style resurgence.

One influencer said she had been “waiting” for flip phones to come back in style and was excited to order one from Amazon.

@thejessicafoxx

#stitch with @skzzolno #greenscreen #y2kaesthetic #y2kfashion #flipphone

♬ original sound – Jessica Foxx

One commenter wrote, “not Gen Z realizing life was so much better without technology. I’m so proud.”

“Been wanting to do something like (this),” another person wrote. “I hate that we are all addicted to our phones.”

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