The first half of 2016 was filled with articles about people going retro. I’m not talking about reviving old clothing or hair styles. I’m talking about basic phones. Do you remember them?
Sometimes referred to as “flip-phones” or “clamshells”, they did little more than voice calls and texting. Some had limited email, maybe a game or two, and those are called feature phones. But on the small screens, anything besides talking or texting was too painful.
Unplugged and In Control
And that’s the point. With those phones, you didn’t want to do anything else. The reports about dumbphones say that people are getting fed up with their lives being dominated by their smartphone. They long for the days when they were in control of their time, so they get an old retro flip phone.
Actor Eddie Redmayne abandoned his smartphone early this year. In an interview in Financial Times he explained his reasoning, “It was a reaction against being glued permanently to my iPhone during waking hours”.
A slew of other celebrities preceded him. Here’s a quote from an article on NBC.com in February 2016:
“Celebrities who want to unplug — and many who have already been hacked — are big fans of the ‘retro’ device. Rihanna, Scarlett Johansson, and Iggy Pop have all been spotted clutching clamshells — and the fashion world almost self-imploded when Anna Wintour nonchalantly flipped open an old-school phone at the 2014 U.S. Open”.
I understand the sentiment. For me, watches had the same effect. I haven’t worn one since I was a teenager. Back then, I found I spent all my time, well, checking the time. It felt great not to be shackled to a clock when I stopped wearing it.
The times I’ve forgotten my smartphone at home felt similar. Only that taste of freedom was mixed with inconvenience (the directions were in that email I don’t have without my phone!), or worry my kids couldn’t get a hold of me. But it was nice not constantly thinking “Where’s my phone?”
Back to Reality
Basic and feature phones can send and receive SMS messages, make voice calls, and have batteries that last for a week or more. That last point alone might make anyone tired of plugging in every night pine for the old days.
But they are the old days. While some manufacturers still make the phones, there’s fewer of them over time. In the NBC article, mobile industry analyst Tomi Ahonen said, “The dumb phone industry is in its last decade. The industry is in consensus that the smartphone will replace the dumbphone market, similar to how DVD players replaced VCRs. But it’s not like personal computers, where tablet and laptop PCs have not yet ended the life of desktop PCs.”
Anyone still own a VCR? Didn’t think so. Or maybe you’re one of the hold-outs hoping they will come back in vogue like vinyl did. It’s possible.
But mobile phones are technology. And technology rarely takes a step backward en masse. For most of us, there’s a future of smartphones that eventually cost less money (cheap ones are already on the market), have extended battery life, and don’t break so much when dropped. I have no predictions, at the moment, when that will happen though. Will those smartphones be filled with time-consuming and diverting apps? Of course they will. At some point we’ll have to realise self-restraint and awareness work just as well as dumbing ourselves down.
The good news is, that whether you opt to go retro or for the latest iPhone, you can still get SMS messages on your device. Now that’s technology for everyone.