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In celebration of the dumb phone, a rare sanity-saving gadget

I miss the phone. No do not that slap in the pocket that we call the smartphone.

Yes, that device can action like a telephone. But it also works as a portable laptop, camera, alarm, console, TV, wallet and so many other things – I’m not sure what they are. But one thing’s for sure: Calling an iPhone just a “phone” never felt quite right.

It’s easy to lose sight of how enormously comprehensive the functions of a smartphone are. Hidden inside our pockets is a powerful machine that seems like it really can do everything, everywhere, all at once. There’s a reason the courts recently limited FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried to just a dumb phone. A smartphone is a powerful tool, especially in the hands of a math geek who lost billions of other people’s money overnight.

And while my smartphone has improved my life tremendously — and I’m not about to get rid of it — it’s also made some things worse. Namely, my brain. The smartphone allows us to easily check things constantly and immediately, whether it’s the news or our loved ones, but at the expense of our attention span, mental health and relationships. Hell, I recently realized that I barely remember most of the concerts I’ve gone to, and why? I was too busy taking hundreds of videos and sharing them on Instagram with my phone. Funnily enough, I never watched the videos afterwards and only did so when I needed to delete them to free up storage space.

That’s why I want the cheap dumb phone to make a comeback, and I’m so excited that it’s on the verge of potentially doing so as more Gen Zers increasingly embrace it. I need a break, and as long as my iPhone is this good, I don’t think I’ll be giving it to myself right away. I need a phone that, while I’m standing in line to fuel my caffeine addiction, lacks apps so I can’t whip it out and distract myself with the news or FOMO-inducing vacation photos. A phone, ideally, without a camera, either, that won’t pull me away from enjoying the moment with my nephew as he sends me one of his first toothy smiles.

I also want it to be a thing. Something common again, so I don’t feel like a freak when I draw attention to pulling out a stupid phone that looks like it’s from the early 2000s, which has actually happened. I also want it to be affordable so that anyone can own one, not a few hundred dollars like many popular dumb phones like the Light Phone currently cost.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking. “Why don’t you put your phone on Do Not Disturb?” I have. Repeatedly. On good days when willpower is high, it sometimes helps. But I’m only human, and smartphones and apps are designed to be addictive. On those days when I’m already feeling down or exhausted, the temptation to pull out my smartphone for a quick and easy dopamine rush becomes too strong. I know I’m not alone.

We’ve suggested bringing back dumb phones before, back in the days when Trump ruled the country via Twitter and rattled our collective nerves with every new tweet. The need to log out was great, and now it feels even greater.

Since then, we have suffered through a global pandemic while the United States witnessed a literal coup attempt. Russia invaded Ukraine, killing well over 200,000 people, destabilizing the region and contributing to severe food shortages. As the conflict continues to unfold, we have also recently hit our — what? — millionth major financial crisis in 15 years? Every other week we live in unprecedented times, and it’s no wonder that depression diagnoses are on the rise.

At the same time, the technology is only getting better – and even more distracting. There are even more addictive apps, as well as more capable smartphones and AI tools to spruce up our lives. And as social media companies continue to add more and more distracting features, research is increasingly showing the negative impact it all has on the mental health of young people and adults. It’s no wonder: reading the news sometimes feels like the world is coming to an end, but somehow Instagram and LinkedIn feeds make it feel like everyone is winning at life every day and always. And they do it all while looking like supermodels too, thanks to incredibly good AI filters.

And that’s why I—no, we—need the stupid phone to make a comeback. We need something to help us temporarily disconnect from a fake digital world so we can be more connected to the real one. It used to be that getting out of the house was how I could disconnect, but now I never can with my smartphone in my pocket and technology everywhere. We can’t press a pause button on the world, but we can forcibly log off using a dumb phone instead of a smart one.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want smartphones to go anywhere, nor do I want them to stop getting better. Rather, I envision a world where we have our smartphones, but it’s also normal to have cheap dumb phones to use when you’re out of the house, for example, or just when you need a break. Just a simple phone that we all can use to just text and call. No cameras, no apps, no internet, none of that. Just a phone – not another constant distraction.

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