flip phones are back, and it’s not just 2000s nostalgia
Why dumbphones may be smarter than we thought.
Dimitrios Kambouris vía Getty Images.
This week marked two of the year's most highly anticipated releases: Hillary Clinton's election memoir, and Apple's iPhone 8. You can probably guess which one nearly broke the internet. Hint: it wasn't the tell-all account of the most consequential event in modern American history. As soon as the new iPhone was announced on Wednesday, there were think pieces about everything from the exorbitant price tag to the death of the home button to the creepy face-recognition lock function. If only you had a device on which you could slam shut the screen in an over-dramatic show of exasperation.
Turns out you don't have to scour eBay to find one — flip phones are all around us. Anna Wintour, a longtime advocate, carries a $15 version to Wimbledon and New York Fashion Week. Even ahead-of-the-curve meme queen Rihanna has been spotted chatting on a black T-Mobile flip device. Last month, Amandla Stenberg announced that she had traded in her smartphone for a dumbphone.
"I got rid of my iPhone, and that was essential in preserving my mental health," Amandla explained. "Now I have a flip phone that I just use to talk to people and hear their actual voices… I see a lot of people around my age who are really unhappy or experiencing disconnection from reality because they base so much of their existence on the Internet and on their interactions with people they might not even know. It creates such unreal expectations for what we think our lives should be."
While there's certainly irony in using an iPhone to scroll through Instagrams of Juicy-clad Simple Life stars on bedazzled Motorolas, it's not just about nostalgia — Amandla was only six years old when the Motorola Razr reigned supreme. Smartphone fatigue is real, and it's making us re-think our social media consumption habits. Last year Lena Dunham and Jaden Smith led a great exodus toward IRL experience that had many of us questioning whether we'd become too connected. Jaden is now back on Twitter, informing the world of his near-death experiences with lemon ricotta pancakes, but he is also living in the moment. "Sippin Tea Listening To Starry Room," he tweeted on September 11.
It's not just a hunch that smartphone addiction might be adversely impacting our mental health. In a recent report titled #StatusOfMind, the UK's Royal Society for Public Health singled out Instagram as the app most detrimental to mental health, shocking approximately no one who has ever seen a Valencia-filtered acai bowl wedged into a thigh gap. Half of the 1,500 14 to 24-year-olds interviewed said Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety. 70% said Instagram made them feel worse about body image. But 91% of us now use smartphones primarily for these exact apps.
"Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life," the researchers concluded in the study. "These feelings can promote a 'compare and despair' attitude in young people. Individuals may view heavily photo-shopped, edited or staged photographs and videos and compare them to their seemingly mundane lives." Selena Gomez, the most-followed person on Instagram, has been outspoken about the effects of social media on her mental health.
Flip phones, though, don't stop you from accessing Facebook full-stop. They just stop the ceaseless notifications from burning a hole in your pocket. And in most cases, your pillow — according to the Millennial Generation Research Review, 80% of us sleep with our phones. For NYC-based novelist Georgia Clark — who writes on a laptop and is still on Twitter — carrying a flip phone is a way of enforcing boundaries without going off the grid entirely. I mean, we have to call our senators somehow.
"There are downsides," Georgia says. "I can't get group texts, take photos, and if you send me a picture message I'll get a little revolving symbol that won't go away for days, which basically says 'Help, I've received something from the future and I don't know what to do.' If somebody is late to meet me, I'm forced to sit alone with my thoughts. That's what I like about it."
Plus, she continues, "Everyone always wants to touch it at parties." While the point of a North Face vest or khaki pants is to blend in, a flip phone is going to start conversations. That's kinda their whole point.
2000s nostalgia clearly plays some role in the flip phone revival. Last year, around the time Apple broke the devastating news that its next iPhone would come without a headphone jack, the internet flipped out over reports that Motorola was reviving its iconic Razr V3. Suddenly everyone wanted to text like it was 2004. "fuck all y'all i'm ditching my iphone to become the girl i dreamed of being in 2004 and you'd better believe I'm setting my ringtone to toxic by britney spears ," wrote YouTube commenter Calibrary Cuff Paula Deen. Other flip fans simply yearn for the ASMResque sensory pleasure derived from the tap-tap-tap of a T9 keypad. 277733668 6337777777724337777 666677733 63326644466433388555555 9443366 4448 8255337777 55566666433777 8666 9777444833 844336? Or, "Aren't messages more meaningful when it takes longer to write them?"
3.5 million people watched the viral video responsible for the Razr rumor. Sadly, it turned out to be little more than an ad, reminding us how Motorola changed the mobile world. But Samsung kept the flip phone dream afloat with the announcement of the Galaxy Folder 2 last summer. "Ur gonna get roasted all the time if you buy one ," wrote one of the commenters. True, politicians including Chuck Schumer and Bill de Blasio have long flaunted archaic, uncool flip phones to promote a populist image. But in the era of bootlegs, analogue, and DIY, does the below-40 crowd really care? The 2017 status symbol is not an Android or an iPhone — it's friends who remember to tell you about their birthday parties IRL, or at least check in via text when you don't click "accept" on Facebook. The real ones will keep in touch.
"Amid all of the chaos in the world right now, it's so important that everyone actively works to preserve their mental health so that we're able to heal and create change," Amandla said of why we're more willing to power down now. It might not be goodbye forever, just 88999555, or BRB.