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Is The Revival Of The Dumb Phone The Solution To Our Tech Addiction Woes?

Gabb girl and text messages
Image CreditGabb/YouTube

Flip and feature phones are often deemed a ‘product of the past,’ but could they be the future of ditching tech addiction?


Mobile phones were designed as a tool to keep humans informed and connected, but the rise of the smartphone over the last three decades means the technology that was designed to serve us ended up controlling many.

Current data suggests the average U.S. adult spends more than seven hours a day staring at a handheld screen.

Americans know there’s only so much “do not disturb” can do against algorithms crafted to create dopamine hits. This is why they are turning to so-called “dumb phones,” devices stripped of all the unnecessary bells and whistles associated with smartphones.

Flip and feature phones are often deemed “products of the past,” but could they be the future for people looking to ditch their technology addictions?

Digital Detox

Dumb phones aren’t always cheap or aesthetically appealing, but they do offer myriad benefits for people seeking to simplify their lives.

Investing in high-quality basic phones takes the pressure off of consumers to keep up with the new iPhones Apple keeps adding to its 40-something iterations. It also gives users a chance to distance themselves from the increasingly apparent negative effects and addictions that come with chronic technology use.

Some are returning to the iconic flip phones that dominated the 2000s. Nokia phone maker HMD Global reported a spike in global and U.S. flip phone sales in 2022. Millennials and Gen Z’s specific interest in the relic is boosting “a once fading and undervalued phone market.”

“I think I can tell the difference in like, the little things with social media, the way I listen and, honestly, like my memory. I feel like, I don’t know, like it makes my attention span shorter,” 20-year-old Mia Robertson, daughter of “Duck Dynasty” star Jase Robertson, explained on the “WHOA That’s Good Podcast” last week after admitting she’s switching from an iPhone to a flip phone.

Others are giving a chance to the new companies touting minimalist mobile phones that are specifically designed to reduce distractions, “be used as little as possible,” and increase security and privacy. The Light Phone, which features a “paper screen” designed to minimize users’ exposure to the blue light known to strain eyes and hurt healthy sleep patterns, reported its sales grew 50 percent from 2021 to 2022.

Light Phone’s pitch is that its device will “never have social media, clickbait news, email, an internet browser, or any other anxiety-inducing infinite feed.” Contrast that with reports that smartphones are ruining people’s lives and that their producers, notably Google and Apple, share data collected from smartphone users’ push notifications with the federal government, and the revival of the clunky, dumb phone seems, well, less dumb.

The subreddit r/dumbphones is home to tens of thousands of members who trade success stories about their decisions to ditch the tiny computer in their pockets for a more rudimentary alternative.

One user, who pays tribute to the famous phone-destroying libertarian character on “Parks and Recreation” in his username, listed several pros he discovered after switching to a basic phone.

No push notifications led to “increased focus,” “reduced anxiety,” and “better time management.” The lack of social media access also prompted him to cultivate physical friendships instead of online ones and avoid the doomscroll cycle that comes with constantly consuming news media.

The only cons he listed were difficulty navigating big or new cities without the aid of a built-in GPS and no access to “cashless” payment methods. Both of those, he reasoned, are minor inconveniences that can be quickly remedied with supplemental tools.

Other users complained that certain dumb phone products lack SMS encryption, don’t have decent cameras, and rely on buggy models that haven’t been around long enough to reach perfection. The tradeoff for many, however, seems to be well worth it.

Child’s Play

Modified phones aren’t just useful for adults. They are quickly becoming parents’ choice to safely and securely communicate with their kids.

To promote their products, dumb-phone and parental control companies everywhere are capitalizing on studies showing that increased screen time and technology addiction negatively affect children’s development and can lead to severe anxiety, depression, suicide ideation, and a steep decline in sleep quality.

The most effective way to protect your children from these online dangers is, of course, not to give them phones. The death of landlines, however, means parents who want to keep in touch with their kids have few other options.

One of the first companies to corner the market for kids’ phones was Gabb, whose goal is to help parents protect their children from the harms of unfettered access to the internet. It was also designed to save parents money in the long run.

“I think it’s lunacy to spend $500 or $1,000 on a phone for a 12-year-old and to replace that device every couple of years. How did that ever become normal?” Gabb founder Stephen Dalby said in a 2019 blog post.

Gabb’s “kid safe” phones and watches still have all of the calling and texting capabilities a child might need to communicate with his parents but “no internet, social media or unsafe apps” that enable Big Tech to hijack kids’ brains and time.

Gabb’s devices are equipped with software that enables parents to track their children, customize which apps their kids can access, and choose who is on their children’s approved contact lists.

“We believe kids have the right to be protected,” the company’s mission statement declares. “We believe connecting with family is essential. We believe in informed parenting. We believe the best life is one with less screen time.”

The company’s YouTube page features compelling testimonies from buyers like Regan Porter, who said she turned to dumb phones to protect her children from pornography, which kids as young as seven years old have been encountering.

“I know they’re going to be exposed to this in the world, and my job as a parent is to delay that exposure and to make sure it doesn’t happen here,” she explained.

FOMO No More

The dumb or modified smartphones on the market right now are not perfect, but they are useful for anyone looking to prioritize mental health, safety, and real connection without sacrificing digital communication.

Gone are the days controlled by the “fear of missing out” (FOMO) and the incessant urge to scroll social media. Here are the days of detoxing from the digital world and taking back precious time by switching to a good old-fashioned flip or feature phone.

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