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Gen Z embraces dumb flip phones, a smarter life hack than you'd think

Are flip phones really a relic of the past or a future tool to protect mental health? For Gen Z, it's currently a content-coping device.
Written by Christina Darby, Associate Editor
Reviewed by Amy Lieu
Young woman with blonde, curly hair on a silver flip phone.
Getty Images

Gen Z, the first generation to grow up with smart tech's evolution from novelty to everyday pocket accessories, is flipping the script and flocking to flip phones. 

With each new smartphone generation, companies like Apple and Samsung offer an arsenal of more advanced features all encompassed by bigger and brighter screens to glue our eyes to. But Gen Z wants less, not more from smartphones, to protect their mental health. 

Their solution: A flip phone that can literally shut out content overload. 

You heard that right, the generation that usually turns to doomscrolling for comfort, is voluntarily going back to the 2000s to seek shelter against the rampant consumer economy. 

Also: How to set screen limits on your iPhone (and why you should)

"I think I wanted to gain [I guess] a sense of just being more connected with my friends and family. And then I also just wanted to cut down on screen time," a 23-year-old Buzzfeed reporter Fjolla Arifi told ABC News, after strictly using a flip phone for the week

On average, the generational cohort born in and after 1996, dubbed "Gen Z," watches of 7.2 hours of video on their screens per day. With content constantly available, many Gen Zers find themselves "doomscrolling" on TikTok and Instagram.

Smartphones and social media have become ubiquitous, and algorithms condition young people to stay glued to their phones. Strategically curated feeds coupled with doomscrolling can be detrimental to mental health, not to mention a major time sucker. 

"We realize that every single problem we have on a night out, everything that leads to us crying, everything that leads to having a bad time, stems from our phone," explained TikTok user @skzzolno for why she and her friends only bring their flip phones out with them. 

For Gen Zs, turning to flip phones isn't just to follow an adopted Y2K aesthetic, but perhaps to revisit a time when technology wasn't all-consuming, but simply an accessory. 

"It eliminates all the bad things about college and brings all of the good things about a phone, which is like connecting with people and taking photos and videos with people," says Gen Zer @skkzonlo in her TikTok. 

Screenshot of a college girl filming a Tik Tok video on why her and her friends only use flip phones when they go out.

Tik Tok user @skzzolno explains to followers why she and her friends only bring a flip phone with them when they go out. 

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET/Tik Tok

And while companies like Samsung have brought back the nostalgic flip phone design, notably with its Galaxy Z Flip series, the Z Flip is still tailored for content creators and consumers. 

While using the Flip's "flex mode" to use the two screens as a mini tripod or as a camcorder is innovative, perhaps innovation isn't the point of owning a flip phone. The allure may not even be in the nostalgia of flipping the clamshell open and closed, but in the device's simplicity.  

Also: Samsung says folding phones are now mainstream

While the manual nature of sometimes having to press three keys to type one letter might be far from convenient, is it more human? 

"It felt like my day was more boring because I had less superficial dopamine to fill it with. But, that was overwhelmingly trumped by this idea of peace and quiet. I didn't feel the need to constantly drench my brain in stimulation," said another Gen Zer Osamah Quatanani to ABC News after switching to a flip phone for 30 days. 

Flip phones aren't the first piece of legacy tech to replace the all-in-one power of a smartphone. 

As a Gen Zer myself, I have to admit that the luxury of taking a disposable camera photo during a night out, without the influx of notifications, instant gratification, or pressure to post beats one of convenience.  Ultimately, it's a freeing experience and I imagine using a flip phone is even more so. 

While I don't have the traditional flip phone, I do have the Z Flip 4, and I can honestly say that the act of flipping the phone down brings a whole new level of satisfaction. On top of the act being a smartphone novelty, I like the idea that when it's time for me to physically shut away distraction, there's the actual, physical action that accompanies and facilitates it. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 phones lined up

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 is seen on display.

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Fellow ZDNET reporter and Gen Zer Jada Jones also recently analyzed how legacy tech, such as a Sony Walkman, fulfills a desire for tech to enhance Gen Z's lives rather than overtake them. 

Although Gen Zers have taken to embracing the flip phone as a quick fix to cut back on screen time, smartphones still dominate the market. In quarter one of 2022 alone, Apple shipped 20 million iPhones in North America. So, don't expect your Apple or Samsung smart ecosystem to face deforestation issues anytime soon. Instead, you could opt to unplug or set screen limits

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