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What’s behind Gen Z’s love for ‘dumb phones’?

Dumb phones offer many of the more essential features we expect from our handheld devices (such as the ability to call and text) but you won’t find yourself browsing Instagram or checking TikTok on them. 

As consumers become more clued-up on the downsides of smartphone use — with negative impacts on everything from mental health to relationships — interest in alternative ‘dumb phones’ is rapidly growing.

This comes at a time when 51% of Gen Z and Millennials often daydream about life without social media, with 60% of Gen Zers wanting to return to a pre-social media era.

These stats may seem unexpected, but when you consider the impact social media has had on younger generations (wrecking sleep, polarising politics, and encouraging negative self-image, to name just a few things) it’s not overly surprising that the prospect of ditching smartphones for something simpler appeals.

The offering of the core features of a phone, but without the time-sucking distractions that usually come with one, is admittedly only part of the appeal to Millennials and Gen Zers.

Both generations are known for their love of nostalgia (curiously, a third of Gen Zers feel nostalgic for the nineties, even though most never lived in that era), and the Y2K aesthetic of many dumb phones have helped the devices to trend on TikTok, with videos featuring the phones garnering millions of views.

The latest development in the world of dumb phones is the partnership between Kendrick Lamar’s PGLang and Light Phone for a limited release of the Light Phone II. This ‘boring’ phone is designed to be ‘used as little as possible,’ and the makers have pledged that their phones ‘will never have social media, clickbait news, email, an internet browser, or any other anxiety-inducing infinite feed’.

The phone sold out straight away, which is perhaps unsurprising given Kendrick Lamar’s involvement in its development and release, but it’s not just celebrity-endorsed phones that are generating a buzz. The Nokia 105 costs just £25 and was the most sold feature phone globally in 2022.

At the same time, HMD (the owner of Nokia) saw their share of the feature phone market double compared to the previous year.

But why all the sudden interest in dumb phones?

Remember in lockdown when everyone started making sourdough and taking up yoga? The move to reduce our smartphone use is arguably a natural extension of this — in line with a greater focus on our physical and mental wellbeing.

Gen Z are notoriously a ‘sober curious’ generation, with many opting for a soft drink instead of a pint of beer or glass of wine. In all our habits we’re seeing intentionality and a focus on health playing a larger and larger role, and dumb phones could play a positive role in this societal shift.

And given Gen Z’s struggles with anxiety and mental health, a more nuanced, intentional approach to technology is arguably no bad thing. After all, owning and using a dumb phone doesn’t mean you have to get rid of your smartphone — and even if you do, you can always check Instagram when you get back to your laptop.

Whilst tech giants continue to push more and more smart tech (to a generally mixed reception), many consumers are opting to go the other way, back to analogue devices that aren’t specifically designed to be as addictive as possible.

From flip phones to film cameras, Gen Z are embracing a more intentional relationship with technology, away from the always-on situationship many of us have with it now.