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Gen Z is regressing back to old, limited 'dumb phones' to limit screen time — but there's another surprising side effect

It could be the perfect mix of useful functions without addiction.

Dumb phones

Photo Credit: iStock

Gen Z is growing up with the latest technology in every facet of life. But, it seems the young generation wants to step out of the blue light a little. 

A unique phone trend shows that the post-millennial age group is reducing screen time by adopting phone tech that was prevalent decades ago

CNBC highlighted the curious move to so-called "dump phones," popular in the early 2000s, when everyone had to flip and dial. 

"I think you can see it with certain Gen Z populations — they're tired of the screens," Jose Briones, a "dumb phone influencer" interviewed by CNBC, said. He moderates the subreddit r/dumbphones. "They don't know what is going on with mental health and they're trying to make cutbacks."

What's behind this Gen Z trend? 

The generation, born in 1997 and later, is starting to recognize the mental health problems caused by too much screen time. 

Smartphone overuse can cause sleeplessness, mood changes, and even impact brain function, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The institute cited research that suggests teens who use phones for more than seven hours a day can develop a thinner cortex, the outside layer of the brain that processes information. 

On the subreddit r/dumbphones, commenters are also noting reuse and cost savings as a reason for the switch to flip and slide phones. 

"There is no need to purchase a new device if you can work with the one you already have. It saves money and it's climate friendly. So a win-win," one Redditor commented

Are they really 'dumb' phones?

Champions of the trend prefer to call them "minimal" or  "feature" phones, CNBC reports. 

No, they won't tell you everything about anything, as most smartphones seem to be able to do these days. But feature phones can include key functions the owner needs, like GPS or hotspot tech, CNBC notes

It could be the perfect mix of useful functions without addiction. 

"What we're trying to do with the Light phone isn't to create a dumb phone, but to create a more intentional phone — a premium, minimal phone — which isn't inherently anti-technology," Joe Hollier, co-founder of minimal phone maker Light, told CNBC. "It's about consciously choosing how and when to use which aspects of technology that add to my quality of life."

Smartphones still rule the market

Dumb phones represent a quarter of the phones used worldwide. 

They are popular in developing countries where they are more affordable than the latest smartphone. CNBC reports that 80% of 2022 dumb phone sales happened in the Middle East, India, and Africa. 

But developing countries are starting to switch to the latest smartphone tech, as well as older adults, the news agency reports in this video. It's an ironic shift that's happening while Gen Z in the U.S. seems to be embracing minimal tech. 

In North America, feature phone sales are flat. But experts are noticing an uptick in interest as companies like Light enter the market, and they expect sales to jump 5% in coming years. 

Sarah Diedrick told CNBC that she made the switch to a minimal phone after her smartphone broke. 

"I loved it so much … I decided to keep it," she said in the video.

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