What’s Old Is New Again, so Gen Z Is Bringing Back this ‘Dumb’ Tech

Simpler form of popular technology is making a comeback, as users sour on screen addiction.

Nobody is calling for the return of the hula hoop or the Edsel, but there is a burgeoning demand for early 2000-era “dumb” phones.

In a word, dumbphones are mobile telephones that have low- or no-internet accessing capabilities.

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Adults of certain age can use the old Nokia flip phones as a good example of a dumb phone, which has largely been overtaken by smartphones. While the dumb phones can provide limited texting, camera, and gaming features, they don’t offer the expanded menus afforded by smartphones, which essentially act as miniature laptop computers.

Now, some smartphone users, weary of the constant screen-checking grind, have had enough and are reaching back in time for dumb phones, which are selling like hotcakes.

The research firm Canalys notes that smartphone shipments slid by 17% in the fourth quarter of 2022, on a year-to-year basis.

Meanwhile, dumb phone sales are up by the “tens of thousands” on a monthly basis, especially for old flip phone favorites produced by Nokia and HMD Global.

Screen fatigue is a major reason why.

“I think you can see it with certain Gen Z populations — they’re tired of the screens,” notes Jose Briones, dumb phone advocate 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.”

Cell phone technology providers are accommodating user demand for dumb phones, only nobody is calling throwback phones “dumb.” Instead, new-age phone providers like Nokia, Light, Punkt, and AT&T (ATT) are using terms like “Light phone” or “SmartFlip” to attract mostly younger customers.

“What we’re trying to do with the Light phone isn’t to create a dumb phone, but to create a more intentional phone — a premium, minimal phone — which isn’t inherently anti-technology,” said Joe Hollier, co-founder of phone maker Light told CNBC. “But it’s about consciously choosing how and when to use which aspects of technology that add to my quality of life.”

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