“I call it my ‘off-the-grid’ time,” she tells me as she proudly holds up the device. It is not an iPhone, but rather, a flip phone. LSA sophomore Olivia Spaulding explained that she purchased the TCL flip phone in an effort to block out the distractions and anxiety provoked by her regular smartphone. “I can scroll for hours without even realizing it,” she admitted in an interview with The Daily. “This eliminates that temptation.”
Spaulding is just one of the many members of Gen Z who have recently readopted the mid-1990s-era cell phones in lieu of their smartphones. Google searches for the keyword “flip phone” have increased by over 140% in the past five years, taking the internet by storm in what some are calling the “flip phone revolution.”
The flip phone is one of the few “vintage” devices that have experienced a resurgence in popularity over the past few years. For many, this return to vintage technologies is not just a reflection of an aesthetic trend, but rather a response to increasing issues of digital overstimulation. Providing relief from the overwhelming qualities of high-tech devices, “retro tech” products including digital and polaroid cameras, record players and even CD and MP3 players have all witnessed an explosion in market demand. Quickly becoming technology’s biggest comeback kid, the flip phone has recently joined the variety of devices that have gone from obsolete to stylish overnight. Endorsed by celebrities including Camila Cabello and Dove Cameron, the flip phone movement has been applauded by various influencers in interviews announcing their conversion back to retro devices.
Receiving well over 627 million views on TikTok, the hashtag “#flipphone” has elicited a wide array of reactions from audiences. While critics of the trend claim that the revival of these devices is purely the result of nostalgia-based marketing tactics, the real reason behind the reappearance of these technologies may be more complicated. Namely, many users of the devices have attributed their switch to technology overstimulation — a problem that has become prevalent among recent generations.
With an average of almost seven hours spent staring at screens per day, it is estimated that the standard American will spend the equivalent of 44 years of their life staring at screens. Research has revealed the consequences of excessive screen time to be especially harmful, with mounting diagnoses of ADHD and mental health disorders reflecting the dangers of overuse.
“There’s a growing segment of people that would like to be disconnected but still have access to the things they want,” said Ryan Reith, the program vice president of mobile devices at International Data Corporation, in an interview with CBS News. And for many, the solution to this digital dilemma can be found in these vintage technologies. Not only do they provide a chance to disconnect from social media and the other addictive components found in smartphones, but these retro devices also provide a certain physical element that more modern ones seem to lack. From the grainy exposure of polaroid and film cameras to the static background noise produced by vinyl, these older products provide a certain experience that has been lost in the digital age.
These retrospective trends provide a stark contrast to the exponential development that the tech sector has seen over the past decade. From the introduction of machine learning software such as ChatGPT to predictive social media algorithms that are strikingly accurate, the resurgence of these “old” devices is increasingly at odds with the newness of the digital age. Such rapid innovation can be overwhelming, making the increase in market demand for these nostalgic products in many ways unsurprising.
However, despite consumers’ genuine desire for a return to technological simplicity, the intentions of businesses are less sincere. Businesses capitalize on nostalgia for past eras to market their products or services. New products feign being vintage through misleading packaging and marketing tactics. Critics argue that these trends become counterintuitive, failing to serve their purpose of fostering minimalism and instead promoting capitalist consumerism. Although businesses may appear to be appealing to a consumer desire for simplicity, in reality, their goals are profit-driven, contributing to the very complexities and waste that consumers seek to escape.
As the tech sector continues to advance at an unprecedented rate, it is likely that an increasing number of individuals will turn to vintage technology to escape the overstimulation of modern devices. While this return to retro tech offers many potential benefits, it is essential that consumers remain cautious of the motivations of businesses that market such devices. The “flip phone revolution” can be seen as a sign of society’s ongoing struggle to balance the benefits of technology with the drawbacks of its overuse.
Tate Moyer is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.