Friday, July 19, 2024
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In 2024, flip phones are so back. What’s behind the trend?


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Flip phones are having a moment.

It’s true: People are snatching up those basic clamshell throwbacks of the early 2000s faster than a bag of discounted Reese’s the day after Halloween.

The reasons are simple: We’re burned out on our smartphones, social media, and passively allowing years of our lives to melt away mindlessly stuck on screens. 

According to the latest statistics, the average person spends nearly five hours a day on their smartphone, which equals six days a month and a mind-boggling 12 years over a lifetime. 

LAUSD bans phones: Los Angeles school district bans use of cellphones, social media by students

Our human willpower and Band-Aid fixes like built-in social media app limits don’t help. 

“If you took an alcoholic who had a problem with alcohol and couldn’t control that, then the best thing to do is get the alcohol out of the house, right? So that was sort of how I looked at it,” tech entrepreneur Wil Brawley, 49, said from his home office in Waxhaw, North Carolina. 

Brawley, who created and co-owns the popular restaurant management software company Schedulefly, went cold turkey and replaced his iPhone 11 with a basic Verizon flip phone exactly four years ago this month. He says he does not miss it − at all. 

“I didn’t like who I was when I had an iPhone,” he said. “I wasn’t present with other people. I was constantly checking emails, texts, sitting at a stoplight looking at my phone, and just constantly grabbing the phone, being distracted, and being distracted when I was with my wife and my kids.” 

Now, having just a flip phone has “been a mental health boon for me,” he said. “The small inconveniences are so enormously outweighed by the positive outcomes for just my presence, my mental health, my anxiety. All of that has improved dramatically.”

Fed up with 9 hours a day on my iPhone

It’s a feeling more people can relate to. Lately, I’ve felt as if hours spent on my smartphone is a never-ending hamster wheel loop of time-wasting. I hate it. I want to change. But I just … don’t. 

Fed up by spending nearly nine hours a day engaging with my iPhone recently on emails, texting, social media, binge-watching “Baby Reindeer” and listening to podcasts or audiobooks, I’ve switched to using a prepaid Total by Verizon Nokia 2760 Flip during “off work” hours at night and on weekends.

I’ve already cut my smartphone time in half, which the Screen Time  Calculator says gives back about six years of my life overall. My friends and family have the number if there’s an emergency. 

Searches for and sales of flip phones surge

Sales of simple flip “feature” phones − not the snazzy new Samsung Galaxy Flip5 or Fold5 smartphones − are up in the U.S. for the second year. According to the tech news site ZDNet, searches for flip phones are also surging, up “15,369% over the past year among Gen Z and younger Millennials,” writes contributor Artie Beaty.  

Some people credit Gen Z TikTok influencers like Sammy Palazzolo (@skzzolno), who garnered more than 17 million views in 2022 when as a college student she posted about why she only takes a flip phone when she goes out for the night. The gist? It keeps her and her friends more present, eliminates “drunk texts” and bad hookups, and “all of the bad things about college and all of the good things about a phone, which is connecting with people and taking photos and videos,” she wrote.

Others point to nostalgia for all things retro, just like we’ve seen the comeback of the Sony Walkman and instant cameras in the past year. 

But the biggest reason for a swell in digital downgrading seems to be more akin to why I’ve snagged a flip phone: I refuse to let a thousand-dollar gadget make me feel powerless over my time, focus, and energy. 

Williams College student Wyatt Olson, 20, feels the same way. He said spending too much time on his smartphone really hit him in late 2023.

“I felt like every single second of downtime I had I spent on my phone,’’ he said, “whether it be walking in between classes, or like I just finished up a class. … And when I would look up and look around, everyone else was on their phone, too.”

Olson tried many of the tricks to spend less time on his phone that I’ve been talking about since 2018. He set his phone to grayscale and set app time limits. It wasn’t enough. On Jan. 1, 2024, he left his iPhone at home with his mom and sister in Maryland and set out for a semester of “self-improvement time” with a Nokia 2760 Flip.

“I love it. I’ve always been a phone call person, and this actually makes it easier for me to talk to my friends rather than text. I have a legitimate excuse because I’m not going to spend two minutes texting you back,” Olson says. He misses streaming music from his phone, which he now does with his laptop. Navigating without Waze or Google Maps can be a challenge, too. “But honestly, it feels empowering,” he said. 

Doomscrolling’s out, “dumbphones,” digital detoxes are in 

The subreddit r/Dumbphones is in the top 2% of most engaged communities on the platform, with nearly 60,000 members. It’s hands-down the best place to research “dumbphones” online. 

The moderator, 28-year-old church pastor Jose Briones, took over that role in early 2020 after switching to a Lightphone − a simple E-ink screen phone to call and text − in 2019. Before that change, Briones logged “12 or 13 hours of screen time a day − just pretty much every waking hour I was just spending online,” he said. “And I didn’t want to do that, you know. I didn’t want to change how I interact with the world, with all online (activity, and miss out on) so many more rich real-life experiences.” 

Briones also has created a helpful tool called the Dumbphone Finder to help people figure out how much they can − and cannot − live without. 

You take a short quiz with questions and options such as “Do you want smart apps?” and “Choose your preferred style” (flip phone, candybar, touchscreen), and it might recommend the Cat S22 Flip or TCL Flip 2

Since taking the helm at r/Dumbphones, Briones says he’s surprised by how widespread this problem of people feeling addicted to their smartphones. “Most people think it’s a device problem, but it’s a lifestyle problem,” he says. “The tech is designed to amplify our vulnerabilities and get all of our attention − the most it possibly can. I want to choose what I pay attention to. I don’t want a device to dictate that.”

Is a digital downgrade right for you?

Briones recommends taking baby steps before you switch entirely, such as using a $49 3D-printed device called the Brick

It’s a little plastic magnet about the size of an AirPod case. You download a corresponding app (iOS, Android), select which apps and features you want to block − calls, messages, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube − then tap the little Brick like you do when you pay for something with your phone. All those features remain blocked until you physically tap the Brick again. 

I bought one about two months ago and highly recommend it, as long as you’re good about putting it in another room so you don’t deactivate it at the slightest twitch. 

The Minimalist Phone app works well on many Android phones, turning flashy app icons and backgrounds into boring grayscale blandness. The website Dumbwireless is another good resource for checking out your options when it comes to digital downgrading. It features everything from the more pricey Lightphone II ($299) to the AGM M9 ($50). 

If you’re considering buying a “dumbphone,” I recommend starting like I did, with an inexpensive device that costs very little and uses a prepaid wireless plan. That way, if it works, great. If it doesn’t, you’re out less than the cost of a nice dinner.

If you want the broadest overview in general, though, go with Briones and r/Dumphones. In addition to the basics, the forum is a great place to take specific questions and get advice for your particular needs. It also has a lot of helpful feedback and honest reviews from people at the forefront of the “dumbphone” movement, which includes the newest, most buzzworthy, and most expensive pared-down devices:

  • Light Phone III (Preorder for $399 until July 15, then $799): Called the ultimate digital detox phone, this ultra-watered-down candybar phone with an e-ink display now comes with a pair of cameras on the front and back. There’s even a point-and-shoot camera-like hardware shutter button. Other additions include a USB-C port, flashlight, fingerprint sensor, and support for 5G. It doesn’t ship until January 2025, though.
  • Punkt MP02 ($255.20): Candybar that looks like an early 2000s phone with 4G support.
  • F1 Horizon (Bluebird) by Sunbeam Wireless ($249): Classic flip phone with Hotspot and Waze.
  • Wisephone II by Techless ($399): Just starting to ship now. Smartphone-like dumbphone with a great camera and custom OS. 

Bottom line? You don’t need to spend a big wad of cash to save you from yourself. One more perk of pairing down is that it saves money − about $3,000 over two years

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech columnist and on-air correspondent. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY. Contact her at JJ@Techish.com.





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