cell phone
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 27, 2024 ·  5 min read

The return of ‘dumbphones’

Do you remember the first cell phone you ever had? I remember mine. It was the LG white chocolate – I shared it throughout high school with my sister. I then “upgraded” to have my own phone in university. Though my friends were all making the switch to blackberry, I still had a simple slide-phone (not quite as old as a “flip phone”). I’ll admit, I was late to the smartphone game, but now I can’t imagine my life without it. Recently, however, “dumbphones” have been making a comeback. Their sales are higher than ever.

The Return of The ‘Dumbphone’

Smartphones are everywhere you look. Take a ride on any form of public transit and you will see one in nearly every persons’ hands. Go for a walk and see how many people nearly bump into you because you’re looking at their phone. On a darker note, how many car accidents are caused each year because people are distracted by their smartphones?

Let’s face it: We are addicted to our phones. Hate them or love them, we just can’t seem to look away. This is what has driven some people to take a step 20 or 30 years in the past. More and more people are replacing their smartphones with what they call “dumbphones”. (1)

What’s more surprising is the age group of the people buying them. No, it’s not boomers. It’s millennials and Gen-Zers. Some are buying them as a necessary break from the constant connectivity of a smartphone. Others are simply buying them to take part in a TikTok trend.


The Breakers

As mentioned already, there are plenty of people out there going back to old flip phones simply because they need a break. Smartphones, while highly useful, can become overwhelming really quickly. Many people feel burnt-out and disconnected from their actual lives because they are so absorbed in their phones all the time. Making the switch to a ‘dumbphone’ means that they have to engage more with their surroundings and the people around them. They also aren’t constantly being bombarded with notifications.

old obsolete cell phones

“I didn’t notice until I bought a brick phone how much a smartphone was taking over my life,” said 17-year-old Robin West from the UK. “I had a lot of social media apps on it, and I didn’t get as much work done as I was always on my phone.”

She says that rather than feeling limited by her phone, she feels more proactive. Not only that, but she’s saving quite a bit of money. The phone itself cost her only eight great british pounds (about $10) and doesn’t come with an expensive data plan.

Polish psychologist Przemek Olejniczak made the switch about five years ago. He said that before he was basically glued to his phone. He’d always be scrolling through Facebook or reading something on the news that he really didn’t need to know. Now, he’s more present and feels he has more time and energy to give to what is truly important.

“Now I have more time for my family and me. A huge benefit is that I’m not addicted to liking, sharing, commenting, or describing my life to other people. Now I have more privacy.” he explained.


Of course, he has to be more prepared when he leaves the home than he used to. He can’t rely on his phone for navigation or to know the bus schedule. But all of that he is more willing to give up for the mental and emotional freedom his dumbphone has given him.

Read: Has Social Media Has Created a Generation of Narcissists?

Gen-Z, TikTokers, and The Dumbphone

A big part of the revival of antiquated flip phones all has to do with Gen-Z and TikTok. It began with certain influencers purchasing the phones simply as a prop for retro-themed parties. For many, it’s an act of nostalgia. Whether they themselves had one when they were younger or they recall their parents having one, it’s a recollection of their childhood. TikTok is now filled with unboxing videos with the flip phone tag. Many Gen-Z celebrities can also be seen with these kinds of phones, both in music videos and paparazzi-taken snaps. (2)

Still, many Gen-Z, who’ve arguably suffered the most from social media overload, are wanting a break. They are using the flip phones as a way to take a break from “toxic” social media and just focus on what’s going on around them.

“I would watch these old movies, and I was jealous of the pay phones. I watched Desperately Seeking Susan, an ’80s movie with Madonna, and I was like, this is incredible. Like they had to rely on the newspaper! I don’t know it just seemed so fun,” said 23-year-old Berkeley graduate Nicky Shapiro.

old non smart phones, aka 'dumbphones'

How Easy Is The Switch?

Product designer Kaiwei Tang, who spent many years designing smartphones for big companies, says that at first the transition can be weird. We’re so used to having our phone and being connected all the time that it can feel strange to not be. You might at first stress about what you might be missing out on. He says often people will experience an “initial anxiety”, but that eventually goes away.

“They say that there’s nothing to do or they’re bored…. But after 15 to 20 minutes, they start to pay attention to the buildings, the clouds, the sky, their friends. It was encouraging.” (3)

So it might be strange at first, but once you get used to not being connected 24/7 to social media, it will actually feel really, really good. You’ll have more meaningful connections and conversations with others. In general you’ll likely feel, well, better.

Does this mean you should throw your smartphone away? Likely not. After all, we need them for many of our jobs, and there certainly are benefits. I, for one, would be completely lost all the time if it weren’t for my smartphone. That being said, we can at least use it as a reminder to sometimes leave them at home or put them on airplane mode when we’re out with friends or spending time with family. That way we can focus better on what’s important – the people we’re spending time with – and less so on what people are doing on social media.

Keep Reading: The VW Bus Is Officially Making A Comeback By 2022


  1. Not smart but clever? The return of ‘dumbphones’.” BBC. Suzanne Bearne. March 2022.
  2. Is Gen Z bringing flip phones back?Mashable. Elena Cavender. November 10, 2021
  3. The flip phone is back. Have people had enough of constant connection?PBS. April 26, 2019