Should We Trade Our Smartphones for Flip Phones?

As much as we complain about them, they've become indispensable for most of us.

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On orders from his editor, The Telegraph‘s Ed Cumming traded his smartphone for an old-fashioned flip phone for a week to see how it would go. The results were exactly what I would have expected.

The premise of the experiment:

Nokia had sent this device to the Telegraph office. It loomed on the desk: a rebuke and a challenge. The Finnish firm, which once bestrode mobile communications like a colossus but has been diminished in the smartphone era, asserts that these kinds of phones – “dumb phones” – are having a renaissance among the young, who are sick and tired of losing hours of their life to the endless repetitive scroll that accompanies Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and personalised news feeds.

Apparently they crave a simpler way of life, a Shakerish kind of existence where they cannot Snap or TikTok or Crush Candy or Clash Clans or whatever they like to do, but can still arrange their social lives with a phone that does little more than text and call. As of early June, there had been 50 million views on the TikTok hashtag #bringbackflipphones, with creators extolling the virtues of markedly reduced screen time.

“Many smartphone users are beginning to recognise they are spending too much time glued to their devices and have a strong desire to ‘be fully present’, improving their quality of social connections,” says Lars Silberbauer, chief marketing officer of HMD Global, which owns Nokia’s phone business.

“While it may be difficult to completely go off the grid for everyone, switching to a classic phone takes you back to basics. Gen Z specifically – a generation that has grown up with the always-on mentality of the internet and social media – are now discovering that it is possible to ‘switch off’, and, from what we can see, they really like it.”

Philosophically, it strikes a chord: many dream of disconnecting and freeing themselves from the tyrannical little rectangle in their pocket. Parents are increasingly concerned about the effect of smartphones on children: just this week, eight schools in the Irish town of Greystones united to ban them. They won’t be the last. The problem is that so much of the world demands a smartphone. Not having one is almost wilful, like deciding to hop everywhere on one leg. You can do it, but why would you?

The result is the 2720, a rehash of an old design brought vaguely in line with modern standards. It has 4G – but without the distracting functionality of a smartphone. Another Nokia Flip phone, the 2660, has recently been released in striking pink and green, the better to appeal to the under-30s. Nokia is reporting that its market share of these not-quite-dumb phones doubled between 2021 and 2022; they’re also known as “feature phones”, somewhat ironically, given that their chief characteristic is the features they lack: you can get Google Maps but not Citymapper, WhatsApp but not Instagram.

I get it. I’m on my phone a lot, although it’s hard to know how much. My iPhone sends me “screen time” reports but a lot of my usage is things like streaming music or podcasts and/or navigating with a mapping application. Those are inefficient or impossible with a dumb phone and not the drain on mindfulness that folks are trying to escape.

At the same time, the instant access to distraction has undoubtedly made me more distracted. I find it difficult to read books for long stretches without checking email, messages, etc. And, while I’m not on TikTok or Instagram, I do find myself mindlessly scrolling videos on Facebook. (The algorithm mostly feeds me snippets of stand-up comedians, handyman tips, and clips of interviews from things like the Johnny Carson show.)

Cumming is about three decades younger than me but seems to have a similar pattern.

I am not Gen Z and I wouldn’t say I am addicted to my phone in the smoking/gambling sense. I can stop whenever I want to. I just don’t want to. Besides, my usage data tells me I only spend an average of six hours a day on the thing. Given I’m asleep for seven or so, that leaves ample time for the less important stuff: eating, working, looking after the family, maintaining basic personal hygiene, reading, googling Arsenal training videos, looking up pictures of my enemies on social media, posting unfunny tweets and doomscrolling the news.

Just the same, we all need a break every now and then. I can’t say there weren’t benefits to my new not-quite-analogue life. Freed from the tyranny of the snippets of WiFi at Tube stations, I read three novels in a week. None of my friends seemed to notice I had gone. My wife noticed that it was taking me an unusually long time to work. After an initial wobble, I didn’t miss any of the social media checking that usually takes up my time.

The problems were the small things: the moments where you realise the extent to which the world has evolved to assume we have a smartphone. I went to Lord’s to watch cricket last Friday. The friend who was taking me messaged to ask if I had the Lord’s app so he could easily send across my ticket. I did not have the Lord’s app, I explained, as I did not have a smartphone. We had to meet in person beforehand instead.

More traumatically, I couldn’t file my expenses. There was a time when all you needed was a wodge of receipts, a few different coloured pens and a bold manner. Today it’s like hacking into the CIA, and you need an app to send you a message confirming you are who you say you are. My calendar is on my phone – I sailed through one missed appointment oblivious. I couldn’t do my online banking, couldn’t send a restaurant a DM asking for a table, couldn’t post a Twitter request for case studies of people who have given up their smartphones.

I couldn’t play games, other than the hellishly reimagined upgrade to Snake, on the flip phone. I couldn’t order a cab or buy stuff off Amazon. I couldn’t listen to music or podcasts, which made walking less appealing, although not as much as not being able to track my beloved steps – having averaged 13,000 a day so far this year, I worry that my week off will make a serious dent in my numbers. While there is a camera on the flip phone, it is grainy; I couldn’t show colleagues unsolicited pictures of my children “being cute”, although oddly they didn’t seem to mind.

My first thought when Cumming mentioned filing his expenses was that he could just do that on a laptop. But, yes, two-factor authentication is a thing and getting a text message is far easier than the alternatives—assuming there’s even an alternative. I do think we forget just how integrated the expectation that we all have a smartphone has become into our everyday existence.

And the pandemic has accelerated that trend. While paper menus have made a comeback, companies increasingly expect that you do the administrative work they used to pay somebody to do and to save them the cost of printing by being able to produce tickets, receipts, and the like electronically.

In less than a week, my lack of smartphone began to impede my job. Some complain that their smartphone tethers them to their work, but it also liberates you from your desk. My job is basically reading, writing and talking to people on the phone. I can do all of it with my iPhone, and none of it with the flip phone. On the sixth day of my trial, an interviewee asked if I could call him on WhatsApp as he was abroad. The flip phone doesn’t let you call through WhatsApp. I cracked and switched my SIM card back.

Obviously, being a features reporter for a major newspaper is an edge case. Those of us in the information industries are going to rely on information technology more than the average person. Still, it would be a major step back not to have the world’s information—and, yes, a seemingly infinite source of entertainment—at one’s fingertips.

Cumming agrees:

Not having a smartphone is time-saving and convenient, but not nearly as time-saving and convenient as having one is. By the end of the week, I concluded that having a less sophisticated phone was more like riding a horse: an old-fashioned way of doing things that has plenty to recommend it but perhaps better saved for the weekends. For the commute, a car is preferable.


I try to put the phone away during downtime, but it requires active effort to not constantly reach for it. We’re away at the beach for a few days, and I actually deleted the app for my work email* from my home screen because I’d otherwise just reflexively check it. And, while I have my phone with me—indeed, all* of us do—when we’re out by the water, I keep it in the beach bag and only pull it out when I actually need to look something up.


*We switched a few days ago from using Google’s suite to Microsoft’s, which has the advantage of making this possible. For the last several years, I’ve used the Gmail app to check both my personal and work email and usually had it in “All Inboxes” mode, which simply integrated the two.

**My wife had gotten her kids iPhones when they turned 13 and I followed suit with my oldest. We broke down and got my youngest, who turns 12 this week, one near the beginning of this academic year, mostly because of some logistical challenges that made being able to be in touch at a moment’s notice important.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    One thing that exposes this premise as being based more on “in my day”-style griping by older people than a sincere concern about distraction is the decision to complicate text chat but retain voice phone, so your primary form of communication becomes the one where you’re repeatedly forced to drop whatever you’re doing instantly because someone else had decided they need to talk to you RIGHT NOW.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    This has the ring of the infamous New York Times Lifestyle section article about monocles making a comeback. A reporter, desperate for an idea to fill column inches, picks up a release from a marketing department and pretends to accept it as fact.

  3. Kathy says:

    Let’s go with an old science fiction cliche: technology is neither good nor bad, but rather depends on how you use it.

    I use my portable computer with a phone app a lot. While driving, it navigates/avoids the worst traffic, and plays an audiobook or podcast. Throughout the work day, I play games and read news stories or ebooks when taking a break. At home, I hardly touch it except a few minutes before going to bed, when I turn off the PC and browse a couple of aviation sites on it. Sometimes I receive or send messages on Whatsapp, sometimes I take or make calls*. I often check my email, but rarely send email if the PC is available. I also use the bank app when needed, and some loyalty card apps now and then. On rarer occasions I’ll use it to get an Uber.

    I don’t have any social media apps on it, not since 2018 or so. I’ve been also getting away from social media overall. I very rarely watch videos (look at the tiny screen! why watch videos there instead of the larger PC monitor or even larger smart TV?)

    So, it gets a lot of use, but mostly necessary, pleasant, instructive, informative, beneficial, useful use through the day. I would miss it if I gave it up, and maybe I’m addicted to it, but I don’t think it’s harmful the vast majority of the time.

    * It kind of does live up to its name as “phone” inasmuch as I often use it rather than the landline when making calls.

    Another thing, I run Whatsapp more on the PC when at work. A proper physical keyboard is far easier to use, and it makes much more sense to download documents to the PC than to the phone.

  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Frankly a smart phone is more convenient than a flip, simply due to the fact that we rely on text based interchanges to communicate rather than voice based. That said the easiest way to minimize your screen time is to simply not have social media apps on the phone and to turn-offnotifications. Turning-off notifications is even helpful if you need to have certain social media apps available, as it diminishes the Pavlovian response to the notifications.

  5. de stijl says:

    We could be pooping in outhouses and lighting our residences with candles and lanterns, but we don’t anymore.

    You know why? It’s way easier. Indoor plumbing and electricity make life easier and better. Have you ever had to dig out the pit required for an outhouse? I did, as a kid at my grandparents farm. It was a massive effort.

    And an outhouse is a major technology step up from doing it behind a bush. Back then an outhouse was a luxury. And I’m a guy so peeing is really damn easy, point and shoot. If you’re a gal, it’s not so easy and an outhouse is absolute God-sent miracle.

    Indoor plumbing, a water tap in the kitchen and the bathroom, a shower, and a city-wide sewer system is a miracle of technology. Yes, you could forgo all that and squat and poop in a communal trench and never bathe, but why would you prefer that?

    Is your life experience improved by doing so? Yes, you are living a more basic life, but is it better? Myself, I really prefer indoor plumbing and a flushable toilet and electricity. These are positive things that make my life easier and better.

    Next week I need to go to Minneapolis. I could walk and it would take about ten to fifteen days or I could use my car and be there in less than four hours. I think I’ll drive. I could fly, but door to door it’s basically the same time sink, and driving is way less of a hassle and way cheaper. I guess I could do it by bus, but why would I? The only train route takes me to Chicago first and I would have to switch trains to get there and then call a taxi. Again, I think I’ll drive given the various options.

    We will choose the easiest path. We will poop in an indoor toilet and flush, we will light out residences with electric lamps, we will drive our cars.

    If I wanted to I could have a fully kitted out smart house with smart appliances and a roomba and a lawn mowing robot.

    I don’t. I could, but the marginal utility is low for me. I’m fine with dumb appliances. Prefer that, actually. I don’t want or need a text from my fridge at 3 AM telling me the cilantro is going funky. I have eyes and a nose.

    The one thing I think about with some covetousness is the lawn mowing robot.

  6. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Should potato chips be made illegal?

    Should chocolate be made illegal?

    Should soft-serve ice cream be made illegal?

    Should prime rib be made illegal?

    Guns? Air Travel?

    Overdoing the benefits of anything apparently can be bad.

    Every generation rediscovers the same stupid questions.

  7. de stijl says:


    I no longer do Facebook or Twitter and never even tried Tik Tok or Instagram.

    For me, the marginal utility is low. Almost no upside and a pain in the butt. Sarah posted new pics of her grandkids and I don’t care, but am semi-obligated to post a throw-away comment “Too cute!”. I want my friends to be healthy and happy, but I really don’t need or care to know about your new sofa with pics. I don’t care.

    I wouldn’t say social media is bad per se, but you need to engage responsibly and with thought.

  8. Andy says:

    If people want flip phone, who am I to complain? But you can’t have mine. I remember what it was like trying to text on a flip phone, so no thanks. And voice to text (which Apple does really well) is great.

  9. Kathy says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I forgot that. I also silence most notifications I’ve on, like email. The only one that makes a sound is the messaging app.

  10. MarkedMan says:


    I use my portable computer with a phone app a lot.

    Exactly. According to these crude measures, listening to a podcast is screen time, but If I listen to the radio in my car it’s not. Right now, I’m listening to music in the background on my Apple Music app, so that’s screen time, but if I put on a CD it wouldn’t be? (If I could find a CD player!). If I read a dead tree newspaper I’m educating myself, but if I read it online, I’m accumulating screen time?

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I have to admit the more recent iOS methods of handling notifications has stumped me. I know how I want them to work, but fear I would have to invest hours to understand how to make them work that way.

  12. de stijl says:

    My simplicity plan is preferring walking over driving when I don’t need to drive.

    In fact, I chose the neighborhood with that in mind. Coffee shop is six minutes north. Grocery store is 8 minutes south. The only bar I ever go to rarely is 7 minutes west. 90+ percent of the time I never have to drive and, to me, that makes my life easier and better.

    I love walking and it makes me happy.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @de stijl: I was on Facebook and Instagram for a while, mostly when my wife was active there, but nowadays I have a dozen or so chat contacts, and a half dozen family or friend groups. We post family pictures to that, talk about getting together. I have a large family one, an immediate family one, a “somewhat more political” one, a Wordle one, and a beer one that gets used daily or more often, and then a couple more that are used occasionally. I know that some use other forms of social media extensively, in addition to these chats, and they probably are a little annoyed, but I’ll take that in exchange for no commercials, no inappropriate topics, no “here’s something you might be interested in!” from an algorithm.

  14. de stijl says:


    If it works for you, do it. I’m all for that. It’s useful.

    I did not mean to imply that it’s bad per se. For me, it is not a thing that improves my life measurably and I find some aspects annoying so I choose not to.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    Should We Trade Our Smartphones for Flip Phones?


  16. de stijl says:

    Here is a social hack worth noting about voice mail.

    I never answer my phone unless I know who is calling. If you are in my contact list I pick up immediately, if you aren’t I never pick up and let it roll to voicemail.

    Here’s my hack. My voice-mail is 15 seconds of dead silence until the beep. I purposely do not do “Hello, this is x. I can’t take your call right now. Please leave a message after the beep.”

    Nope. I just have 15 seconds of silence and then the beep.

    Hardly anyone actually leaves a voice-mail. The silence unnerves them. Most telemarketers and scammers just hang up and flag that number as dead.

    I tell my friends what to expect, but unless I’m in the shower, I always answer if you are in my contact list. If not, never.

  17. de stijl says:


    I really like the description of a mobile phone as a portable computer with a phone app.

    99% of the time I use it, it isn’t as a phone. I use Google Maps more than I use the phone functionality.

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I’d be willing to trade back. Then again, the only times I use smartphone features are when I’m reading OtB while waiting for the doctor or am in bed not wanting to get up yet. I do use Google Maps sometimes, but not on my phone–I print out the driving instructions that it provides in its preview from my computer. I used my phone to take attendance one day when I was teaching PE, but it was cumbersome at best and with Parkinson’s now diagnosed, I can barely do it on the Chromebook that I use. Still I suspect that I’m more of an outlier on this particular bell curve, and I only started using a smartphone when I switched to a new carrier that sold only them.

    When I visit Korea this September, I’ll rent a flip phone probably unless the deal on a compatible Korean Sim card is competitive. The person at the phone kiosk at the airport will know what I should do. (And I don’t have a Korean charging plug anymore. 🙁 )

  19. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    I can’t take credit for that. I heard it from a coworker years ago, when I complained that placing calls had been easier on the older phones than the Blackberries we’d been issued (it must have been 2013).

    He said, “These aren’t phones. they’re small computers that make phone calls.”

    At work I sit in front of a PC most of the day. How much screen time is that? Ah, but that’s “work” (and OTB and news, of course). When I get home, first thing I do is turn on the PC for more screen time, only for a bit more OTB, and aviation blogs, and whatever other diversion I feel like, before I stream something on TV.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: It actually baffles me that the iPhone isn’t smarter than that. I also constantly get notifications that I have my headphones too loud even though I seldom use headphones. It mistakes any time I make a Bluetooth connection as using headphones.

  21. de stijl says:

    I spent some time in my youth homeless. Had a job but no permanent residence. It was a brief span, but very memorable, and taught me a lot.

    That time taught me extremely well to appreciate things like indoor plumbing and electricity. A hot shower. Going without for a bit makes you crave them and appreciate them deeply.

    I abused my employer’s bathroom privileges. You can get mostly clean out of a sink. I would show up randomly purportedly to hang and banter with my friends / co-workers, but the real reason was the bathroom.

    When you are homeless and awake you basically just try to find ways to kill time. Books are excellent until the sun goes down.

  22. Michael Cain says:

    Just on bicycle rides this month, my smart phone has been a phone (once), a book, a city map with navigation suggestions, a camera for snapshots, a flashlight, a modest-power magnifying glass, and a notepad for making a list (mine has a decent stylus even though it was cheap when I bought it). All in one pocket of my cargo shorts.

    Trade my many-in-one device for a flip phone? Not a chance.

  23. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: I never get that message, but I just checked and, except for my Apple watch, everything I connect to via Bluetooth could be considered headphones. 3 actual sets of ear buds, and my hearing aids. What else do you use Bluetooth for?

  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Cain: This whole conversation is making me realize just how dumb the whole “screen time” thing is. Yesterday I went on a hike with my family. I spent time on the phone looking up various trails and guides, then using it to navigate to the trailhead, then used Alltrails as my map rather than a paper one, took a variety of pictures throughout (even sending a few to my out of town daughter), used it to identify a few plants, then to look up the closest pharmacy (Wasps! Thank god for Benedryl!), and finally to navigate back home. Oh, and I recorded my hike in my fitness app too. I was probably on it continuously for 5 hours. What part of that was “screen time” that I would want to reduce?

  25. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I routinely Bluetooth podcasts, music, and driving directions in the car and music to external speakers at the house. I’m not sure how it counts streaming video or music via Chromecast.

  26. Sleeping Dog says:


    I’ve an Android phone so I can’t help you. On that there is a ‘notifications’ tab under settings to manage app notifications and the options also can be found under the “apps” tab.

  27. Kazzy says:

    @MarkedMan: I’m pretty sure listening to podcasts is NOT counted as screen time. I went for an 83 minute run using a combo of a (non-Apple) podcast app, Spotify, and a run tracker and none of it was recorded as screen time.

  28. BugManDan says:

    As @Michael Cain: said, my smartphone replaces multiple other devices. And, in the case of GPS, is much better than the old, never updated unless I wanted to pay a outrageous price, unit in my vehicle.

    My biggest complaint about my phone is that I read more online “articles” to the detriment on my book reading. Not sure if this is shorter attention span, time in life, changed interests, or what.

    And my kids don’t pay near as much attention to me as I deserve because they spend too much time on youtube and video chatting with their friends!!!

  29. Kazzy says:

    @MarkedMan: Pediatricians used to say that children should have no more than 2 hours of screen time per day. They then walked that back, recognizing that a hard-and-fast number didn’t work because not all screen time is created equal. FaceTiming with grandparents is different than playing a game that has some thinking involved is different than playing a game that has no thinking involved is different than watching educational videos is different than watching fluff . Etc, etc, etc. Further, there is value in even those “less valuable” uses. How often do we zone out watching some shitty reality TV because we need to give our brain a break? Rather than think, “Less is better,” think about how it is impacting your life. Are you not doing things you should be doing because you’re distracted? Are you getting MORE done because of the efficiency and convenience provided? Etc.

    I’m a teacher and some of my colleagues will bristle if a parent checks their phone during a conference or event. While ideally they would not… maybe they need to. And maybe having their phone nearby and glanceable allows them to be physically present at such events whereas previously they couldn’t have attended them at all. It’s all a cost-benefit analysis without simple answers… but being more mindful of your usage is a good thing. Feeling guilty because you used your phone to augment/support an amazing activity like a family hike is silly and if folks make you feel that way, they’re wrong.

  30. MarkedMan says:

    @Kazzy: Hmmm, then I wonder if it is merging my iPad, MacBook and Phone time together. Because there are days my phone says (said? I think I have it turned off now) that I have 7+ hours of screen time, which is not possible unless it’s counting those things. I use my iPad pretty much exclusively when I’m reading the newspaper or doing crossword puzzles or Wordle, but my phone for streaming things. And of course I’m on a computer most of the day.

  31. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    When I visit Korea this September, I’ll rent a flip phone probably unless the deal on a compatible Korean Sim card is competitive.

    When I was there in April, SIMs were data and receive calls only.

  32. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    When I visit Korea this September, I’ll rent a flip phone probably unless the deal on a compatible Korean Sim card is competitive.

    When I was there in April, SIMs were data and receive calls only.

  33. Kazzy says:

    @MarkedMan: You can toggle whether you want it to combine time across devices or not; if you opt for that, it will add up any screen time on devices you’re logged into with your iCloud account. That’s the much more likely culprit. I did that and it’d routinely be like, “You’re going nuts on screen time!” and its like, “Well, of course, I spent an hour a day sending emails to parents.”

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: This will be the first time in my lifc that I’ve ever paid any attention to what a Sim card is or does, but from what you’re saying, I guess I’ll rent a phone just like always.