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Why Gen-Z Are Turning Themselves Away From Smartphones

reject modernity, embrace tradition

Another night out, another mess that I have to deal with the next morning. This time though, things turned out to be way less funny and a tad more sour than usual when I woke up, as in between two conversations about the depleting rate of the Lebanese Lira at my favorite local drink-tea-to-forget spot, my newly-purchased iPhone was apparently very keen on saying hello to the ground as it smashed into the exact number of pieces it required to be assembled to begin with. Rendered pretty much useless (you can blame the strong shay I had for that), for once, I somehow saw the bright side in my sudden loss of one grand. 

You see, like most people my age I imagine, the amount of time I spend staring at screens worries me. Not only because of the impact it has on my eyesight, but most importantly on the impact it has on my mind, my behavior, and my perspective on life in general. Widely perceived as a comforting and convenient nest, smartphones can sometimes induce staggering levels of stress, anxiety, and peer pressure to its users. The piece of technology is repeatedly criticized for being a gateway that leads to mild, and even severe, mental health issues that tamper with one’s ability to maintain healthy levels of dopamine throughout their days and ensuing routines. 

In 2017, a research paper examined the prevalence of depressive symptoms among American teenagers between 2010 and 2015— a period which saw a significant rise in smartphone development and usage— and found that there was a 33% increase in the number of teens experiencing depression, a 23% increase in attempted suicides among the surveyed population, as well as a 31% surge in suicide rates as well.

Clearly, there’s an explicit causal link between owning a smartphone and feeling low (which is an understatement). What does this have to do with my broken iPhone? Honestly, for the first time since I owned one, I started thinking about an alternative scenario where I wouldn’t immediately rush to the nearest Apple store to buy a replacement, but to turn towards “brick” phones instead, because brick phones do what brick phones are meant to do, which is call, text, and have a log with all of your contacts — nothing more, nothing less (well, except for feature the iconic “Snake” game). 

Some might say that I’m rejecting modernity to embrace tradition, whereas, from my perspective, I’m just trying to keep myself as sane as possible, especially given the times that are currently passing by. 

Proudly taking on the hipster aesthetic with this new resolution, it turns out that I’m far from being the first to renounce smartphones. In fact, after a couple of conversations and some online research, it appears that either people have made the jump, or are strongly considering it — especially amongst Gen Zs. 

“I think you can see it with certain Gen Z populations — they’re tired of the screens,” Jose Briones, who moderates the r/dumbphones subreddit, told CNBC. “They don’t know what is going on with mental health and they’re trying to make cutbacks.”

According to recent data published by Asia New Network, it appears that the current back-to-basics pandemic is quite contagious as in the US alone, smartphone sales last year dropped by approximately 20% when compared to the previous year, marking a third year of slump in a row. 

When it comes to our dear region, the Middle East, Africa, and India make up 80% of all brick-phone sales last year, proving that a real shift in consumer behaviors is indeed happening as more of us seem to be leaning towards a more minimalistic lifestyle and enjoy healthier everyday habits. 

Early noughties nostalgia can also be a factor to blame, or should we say thank, in this current switch of cellular devices. Companies such as Punkt and Light are attempting to hit two birds with one stone by designing devices that are more embracing of traditional phones, without necessarily taking away from any of their stylish edge. 

“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 Light, told CNBC. “But it’s about consciously choosing how and when to use which aspects of technology that add to my quality of life.”

Phones used to be cool and distinctive from one another. They came in all sorts of unique shapes and colors, and achieved the one objective they were purposefully built for, which is to communicate with others, not endlessly scroll online just for the sake of it. Pictures are now just stored rather than looked back on, idem with videos, and the same goes for the rest— it’s lost its initial flavor. 

I don’t know how long I’ll manage with the brick phone. After a solid week of using a burner, it does indeed get quite frustrating when you’re lost and can’t simply switch on 4G to find your way around. But it’s also true that I’ve been feeling more at rest and ease with my right to disconnecting from the digital world and only stepping into it when I, and not the hundreds of notifications pinging on my phone, decide to. Maybe for that reason alone, I might stick with it for a little longer than expected. 

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