The New StatesmanThe New Statesman

The rise of “dumb phones”

By Sarah Manavis

12 Apr 2023 · 3 min read

Editor's Note

A return to "dumb phones" is being fueled by a desire to disconnect from social media. But the revival may actually be part of a trendy aesthetic driven by social media. The New Statesman reports.

Whenever a piece of technology becomes obsolete (or nearly so), there is always the chance that, after a few years, it will experience a nostalgic revival: no longer simply dated and clunky, but fashionably “retro”. In gaming, consoles like the Nintendo 64 and even old Gameboys have experienced a major resurgence; so too have boxy, nineties digital watches; and Polaroid and older digital cameras. The products most ripe for a resurgence tend to be those which have a classic or interesting design, remain easy to use, and are associated with a happier, more fun, or merely simpler time.

One piece of old technology that felt destined to gather dust, however, was the pre-iPhone era mobile phone. These phones (now dubbed “dumb phones” in contrast to our present day “smart” ones) have little to recommend them in the 21st century: ugly design, unintuitive functionality (lest we forget tortuously trying to send a text on a nine-button keyboard) and an association with the diet culture and tabloid hysteria of the 2000s (flip phones being a fundamental accessory in the imagery of both). The smartphone swiftly killed off its predecessors. What fun can a dumb phone offer now?

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