First, it was disposable cameras. Then it was low rise jeans. Now, Gen-Z’s latest “vintage” obsession is the flip phone – that mid-1990s-era phone that suddenly became so popular with millennials.
Today, these smaller, lighter devices — some available for as little as $20 at major retailers like Walmart and Amazon — appear in TikTok videos of youngsters unboxing them, dazzling their cases like previous generations, and filming tutorials on achieving a carefree, blurry aesthetic thanks to the low-quality camera.
But above all, they like the possibility of disconnecting – or as much as that is even possible in 2023.
“I’m the flip phone revolution of the team,” singer Camila Cabello tweeted Thursday, posing with a TCL flip phone, old. “Maybe I can write the theme song.”
Actress Dove Cameron, who shot to fame on Disney Channel’s “Liv and Maddie,” said in a November interview that she had switched to a flip phone. Spending too much time on her phone and staring at social media “is really bad for me,” she said.
“I found a little ’90s, Matrix-y flip phone,” Cameron said. “I have a separate number for that, it’s really cheap and I think probably really shitty.”
Cameron said she unplugged and flipped because she found her social media presence “misleading”. The feeling is dominant among the Gen Zers – and its the impact has been linked to a mental health crisis among adolescents.
As smartphones and social media became more ubiquitous around 2012, the rate of teen depression also increased, according to psychologists. Between 2004 and 2019, the rate of depression among teens nearly doubled, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Sammy Palazzolo, 18, a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has a new routine with her phone when she goes out at night with friends.
She and her friends listen to the latest music on their smart phones as they get ready. Then, when it’s time to go, they leave those smart devices behind.
Instead, they only contact each other through their flip phones throughout the night and take pictures on them despite the now primitive camera. Their devices are a great conversation starter.
“At parties, people will be like, ‘Oh my God, is that a flip phone? ‘” Palazzolo said. “We’ll get to talk to new people, meet people, and everyone loves it.”
Reagan Boeder, 18, said she was trying to get her sorority sisters into the trend.
“I think more and more people are going to come out with flip phones just because it’s so fun and nostalgic and honestly a vibe.” Boeder said.
Before switching phones, Palazzolo discovered that his evenings in his college town often ended in tears following an adverse event. post on social media or a text from an ex, “the root cause was our phones.”
As vintage technology began to make a comeback, they came up with an unconventional solution.
In December, she and three friends went to their local Walmart. The process was unfamiliar to 18-year-olds, from what model they should buy to finding the right phone plan. After four hours, Palazzolo purchased the AT&T Flex for $49.99; his friends got cheaper models for $19.99 through Tracphone.
Palazzolo’s TikTok encouraging others to buy flip phones has over 14 million views and over 3 million likes, with hashtags that include #BRINGBACKFLIPPHONES and #y2kaesthetic.
“It takes out all the bad things about college and brings in all the good things about a phone,” Palazzolo said. “Which is connecting with people and taking photos and videos. Photos and videos about it are fire.
HMD Global is Nokia’s exclusive licensee, said Gen Z is an unusual demographic for the company. Both companies are based in Finland.
“This is a generation that didn’t have a Nokia as their first phone and probably discovered our brand through social media,” said Jackie Kates, chief marketing officer at HMD Global.
Generation Z is used to the many features of smartphones, from their many applications like Instagram, Find My Friends or GPS. But there are also security issues that come with using these simple devices. Without the “find my” tracking feature, Palozzolo said she and her friends stay close and use a buddy system to find out who’s where.
Palozzolo wanted to use a flip phone during a summer in high school because she thought it would be “cool”. “My parents said absolutely not, we have to be able to follow you,” she said.
Palazzolo is no stranger to “vintage” technology — she’s been bringing a digital camera to parties since her sophomore year of high school.
And while Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro has a 48-megapixel camera, it lacks the delayed gratification of waiting for images to be developed or downloaded to a computer. Popular apps such as “Hisptamatic” and “Dazz Cam” recreate photos from digital and film cameras and have thousands of downloads.
The disposable camera market is expected to grow by $1.23 billion by 2030. Celebrities like TikTokker Charlie D’Amelio and model Emily Ratajkowski have jumped on the 2000-era digital camera trend.
“I love photos on flip phones because they’re grainy and blurry,” Palazzolo said. “And I think that captures the vibe of going out to college perfectly.”
Perhaps one of the reasons Gen Z yearns for the 1990s and 2000s era is privacy and the lack of neatly curated images. It’s social media at its most casual – photos with candid images and BeReal, a popular app that asks its users once a day to take a real-time selfie and post it within two minutes.
“I never want to be that person who’s just on the phone all the time,” Boeder said. “Getting a flip phone kind of made that more possible.”
Back then, “people were more engaged with each other than our phones and our social media,” Boeder said. “It seemed like people were talking to each other more and everything was more authentic and spontaneous.”
HMD Global said many people like that the idea is less available.
“We attribute this change to the fact that many smartphone users are beginning to recognize that they spend too much time glued to their devices and have a strong desire to disconnect and ‘be fully present’ to improve the quality of their social connections.” , said Kates.
And yes, new Nokia flip phones are still available – the Nokia 2760 Flip is sold at Walmart by prepaid brands such as Verizon for $19.99. The 2780 can be found on Amazon and Best Buy for $89.99.
In 2022, the International Data Corporation said the foldable phone market is expected to reach $29 billion in 2025, a compound annual growth of 70%. Samsung has shipped over 10 million units since the release of its first-generation model, which accounted for over 88% of the global foldable smartphone market in 2022.
These aren’t your available $30 flip phones at Wal-Mart. An unlocked Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 starts at $1,799.99 and the Galaxy Z Flip4 at $999.99.
“Samsung has chosen to bet on its foldable smartphones; a decision that made it far ahead of its rivals in the number and sales of foldable smartphones,” said Zaker Li, Senior Analyst at Omdia Mobile Devices Team.
Omdia attributed the high price of Samsung foldable phones to lackluster sales of its previous models, but sales ‘increased rapidly’ to 9 million units in 2021, up 309% year-over-year.
Apple need not worry though – Omdia expects that by 2026, foldable phones will make up 3.6% of the total smartphone market. By comparison, Apple’s market share is more than half of the entire smartphone market.