The rise of the dumbphone: As sextortion and social media addiction rise…how Gen Z is driving the switch to basic handsets with VERY limited features

The rise of the dumbphone: As sextortion and social media addiction rise…how Gen Z is driving the switch to basic handsets with VERY limited features

Generation Z youngsters are driving a revival of retro mobile phones – dubbed ‘dumbphones’ – in a fightback against social media addiction and sextortion threats.

Brick-like or flip models such as Nokia devices which were originally popular around the turn of the millennium have now come back into fashion, analysts say – and young people have been taking to TikTok to show them off.

One user said, ‘This is what I want – this is everything I need’, while sharing their device, while another urged: ‘This is your sign to go buy a flipphone.’

Mobile phone firms appear to have taken note of the trend and are now developing new minimalist or feature-free versions of their phones, which focus on the basics of just sending and receiving calls and text messages.

Gen Z-ers are increasingly snubbing smartphones which give access to the internet and apps, amid fears they encourage people to spend too much time online.

Gen Z-ers have been turning to the devices while wanting to do a 'digital detox', experts say

Sales of Nokia mobile phones, relaunched in 2017, doubled across Europe last year

So-called 'dumbphones' such as the Nokia 3310 differ significantly from the latest iPhone

The trend comes as teachers were this week given an unprecedented warning by the National Crime Agency about pupils being targeted in sextortion scams.

The number of children targeted by criminal gangs has risen by 266 per cent in just two years. 

The NCA said 243 fell victim in 2020 but this soared to 890 in 2022.

Ruthless criminal gangs from West Africa and South East Asia are luring in children online, tricking them into believing they are in a genuine relationship or friendship with someone their own age before demanding they share intimate photographs or film themselves on a webcam.

Blackmailers then threaten to release nude or semi-nude photos of them, either real or fake, to their friends and family unless they pay up.

Mobile phones have already been banned by some schools in a bid to minimise disruption and improve behaviour in classrooms.

Meanwhile, Ofcom has found 63 per cent of children aged eight to 11 are now on social media, with most using their phones to access apps.

There have also been suggestions children should be barred from having smartphones, including from US social psychologist Jonathan Haidt on ITV’s Good Morning Britain yesterday and also ex-primary school teacher Kam Chauhan, mother of a 10-year-old.

He said the tech had ignited a ‘wildfire’ of anxiety and depression among young people around the world and insisted youths should not be ‘exposed to random weirdos on the internet’.

Young people posting on TikTok have also been evangelising for more old-fashioned mobiles, often using the hashtag ‘bringbackflipphones’.

Recent research suggested nine out of 10 members of the millennial and Gen Z groups admit to ‘doom scrolling’ on their smartphones when socialising with friends and constantly checking their devices on nights out.

Ex-primary school teacher Kam Chauhan (pictured), 43, from Milton Keynes, will not allow her 10-year-old son to have a smartphone, despite him asking for one

Ofcom has found that 63 per cent of children aged eight to 11 used social media (stock image)

Ofcom data released in March last year showed mobile phone ownership by youngsters' ages

More than a third, 37 per cent, said they checked the phones more often than they should – and 32 per cent confessed they would like to be able to switch off from their phones when out and about.

One in five, 22 per cent, revealed they already turn their phones off or leave them at home ahead of social occasions while another 38 per cent said they would consider doing so, in the poll of 4,000 people commissioned by Heineken.

Generation Z is defined as people born from 1997 onwards, accounting for an estimated 72million worldwide – though those born in 2010 or later are now being termed ‘Generation Alpha’.

The survey results came as Heineken teamed up with Bodega to launch the so-called ‘Boring Phone’, unveiled at Milan Design Week last month.

The gadget is unable to download social media or other apps and instead enables the owner to simply send or receive calls and text messages. 

Nabil Nasser, the global head of Heineken, said: ‘We have dialled down the tech to help people truly connect over a beer, without any distraction from the constant buzzing and dings.’

Bodega’s co-founder Oliver Mak said: “Smartphones can be too interesting, so we wanted to design a boring one. This is truly going to help answer the call for better nights out.’

The Boring Phone was produced by the tech firm HMD – standing for Human Mobile Devices – which was also behind the relaunch of retro-style Nokia phones.

HMD’s Nokia 2660 Flip phone sales doubled and grew back 100 per cent in Europe last year and the firm told MailOnline it expects further sales rises this year.

Recent new products include the Nokia 2660 Flip in pink and green last May and a new Barbie Flip Phone, in collaboration with toy company Mattel, is due this July. 

HMD’s chief marketing officer Lars Silberbauer told today how consumers were increasingly wanting to ‘dial down the stress and anxiety of being always on, having to constantly watch our smartphones for fear of missing out’.

He added: ‘We believe people want greater simplicity, fewer interruptions, and more time face to face with family and friends.

Nokia launched last May a new, hot pink flip phone called the Nokia 2660 Flip - the unveiling came exactly 25 years on from the launch of Nokia's first ever flip phone in 1998

The Nokia 2660 Flip, featuring a clamshell design and just 4.25in long when folded, flips open to reveal a 2.8-inch display alongside large physical buttons, without a touchscreen

‘The main factor is giving people a choice to digitally detox. The dumbphone or funphone can be part of the solution to anxiety.’

He added that other benefits of retro phone is that they are robust and ‘festival-ready’, have longer battery life, can help start conversations and also prove more ‘affordable’ and ‘fun’.

Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at, described the 2017 relaunch of the Nokia 3310 as a game-changer ‘that really sparked the revival’.

He said: ‘With a launch price of just £59.99 – a fraction of feature-filled smartphones – Nokia pushed the 3310 as an affordable alternative in a world full of high-spec mobiles.

‘While it’s true that feature-light phones rarely compare with the latest premium devices when it comes to performance or functionality, they can often shine in equally important areas such as battery life and durability – really handy for travellers, digital-detoxers and festival-goers alike.

‘There are drawbacks, of course, as participating in basic day-to-day tasks often requires a smartphone.’

But he added: ‘With modern life an endless deluge of notifications, it’s no surprise that Gen Z are increasingly eschewing the stress of a life lived constantly online and turning to “boring” phones.’

The potential dangers of smartphones and social media to youngsters’ mental health have also been highlighted by experts.

Tobba Vigfusdottir, a psychologist who founded workplace support platform Kara Connect, said: ‘Social media directly affects mental health, your self-worth and how lonely you are.

‘Gen Z are becoming increasingly aware of this, realising that social media is rigged towards making them feel worthless.

‘Fear of missing out is not a new thing. However, social media seems to amplify these feelings – the sense that others are living life better, having more fun than you are, enjoying themselves.’

She described how switching to a more ‘simplistic’ phone was ‘usually a bit of a shock to young people’, adding: ‘At first they will feel real withdrawal symptoms and will be instinctively looking at their phones for non-existent apps and features.

Psychologist Tobba Vigfusdottir says social media can leave youngsters feeling 'worthless'

Lars Silberbauer, chief marketing officer for HMD Global which makes the relaunched Nokia phones, says people want to 'dial down the stress and anxiety of being always on'

The firm's new 'pop pink' and 'lush green' 2660 Flip phones came out last May

TikTok user @brielleybelly123 has enthused about flip phones to her 297,000 online followers

But she insisted a ‘digital detox’ would ‘immediately make them feel better’ – with potential benefits such as better sleep, mood improvements and more productivity.

She added: ‘Later they will come to appreciate how much of their time was spent scrolling through the often inauthentic lives of others.’

Smartphones are still the dominant market leader, making up nine out of ten being sold – but not only Gen Z-ers but ‘nostalgic’ older users are being tempted especially when going on holiday or visiting festivals, another expert said.

Ben Wood, chief analyst at tech firm CCS Insight, said: ‘Smartphones are so entrenched in people’s lives whether it’s wanting access to a great camera, WhatsApp, banking apps.

‘But there is a discussion about how we use our phones. You don’t need to get a feature phone to have a digital detox but we are seeing them being used by people who are, say, having problems with stress.

‘There’s also a great role for these more basic phones for children getting their first mobile – while people who are a bit older can enjoy some nostalgic moments.’ 

Among those deciding to get a ‘dumbphone’ for weekends and holidays is Ed Johnson, 30-year-old co-founder of online mentoring platform PushFar, who told MailOnline he sees both benefits and drawbacks.

He said: ‘I’m not surprised to see a rise in people looking for ways to navigate life offline.

‘I’ve been deeply entrenched in the digital world for a long time, and it became increasingly difficult to separate work and home life, and even to just live in the moment.

‘Everything from work emails to social media and news stories was contained and easily accessible through my phone.’

He decided to take a step back when finding himself still incessantly drawn to his phone even when surrounded by ‘incredible scenery’ working and living in the central Italian region of Umbria in May 2022. 

Ben Wood, chief analyst at technology consultancy CCS Insight, believes most people will stick with their smartphones but 'feature phones' can offer some nostalgic pleasure

Ed Johnson, co-founder of online mentoring platform PushFar, decided to get a 'dumbphone' to use at weekends and on holiday to help avoid distractions

Old mobiles such as the Nokia N6110, pictured here from 1997, have been compared to bricks

Among the few features other than phone calls and text messages has been the game Snake

He said: ‘It was the final straw to undertake a digital detox, deleting my Instagram and investing in a dumbphone for weekends and holidays.

‘I still have access to calls and texts, but without the distraction of other apps.’

But the disadvantages he identified include cameras being not as high-quality as on smartphones – while ‘banking and travel can prove tricky’. 

But he insisted: ‘Transitioning gradually to using the dumbphone on weekends has done wonders, and digital detoxing as a whole has been shown to help improve mental wellbeing, happiness and critical thinking – so in my opinion, it’s worth it.’

Yet James Murdock, co-founder of tech firm Alchemy, cautioned: ‘I’d wager that dumbphones aren’t great candidates for the circular or refurbished market because they aren’t aspirational enough.

‘Instead, I’d recommend getting a slightly older, refurbished device that you can still put controls on to limit screen time – even better, use a device you already have to do this.’

One noted ‘dumbphone’ fan is comedian Jack Whitehall, whose live shows have included a routine in which he talks about his love for the Nokia 3310.

He is seen on YouTube and his TikTok account telling a crowd: ‘I miss having a dumbphone. Do you know the phone I miss every day of my life? The Nokia 3310 – there was a phone.

‘Screw the iPhone with all of its apps and its maps and its GPS c**p – a Nokia 3310 gave a man all he needed: stopwatch, calculator and Snake.’

The hot pink Nokia 2660 phone relaunched last May also included the game Snake.

A young YouTuber from the UK, Lio, previously shared a video which went viral explaining why she switched from smartphone to ‘dumbphone’ after becoming concerned about spending too much time on her phone.

In one video clip, the teenager showcased her Nokia 6300 4G device which she had opted for instead of her more advanced Samsung Galaxy A8 smartphone.

British comedian Jack Whitehall has made his love of 'dumbphones' part of his act

Jack Whitehall, pictured here on The Jonathan Ross Show in February this year, has said the Nokia 3310 has everything a man needs - 'stopwatch, calculator, Snake'

A Youbtuber called Lio, from the UK, has documented her transition to dumbphones in a series of videos on Youtube , where she encourages smartphone users to partake in a 'digital detox'

Lio claims that her attention span had increased in the one week of using the phone, making her able to read much more and watch movies 'without breaks' in her spare time

She said: ‘I realised I was becoming more and more addicted to it – it was endless scrolling on things like YouTube shorts and Instagram reels.

‘If I had a second where I wasn’t doing anything, I would check my emails, find something random to Google. I watched videos on how short-form content lowers your attention span.’

She realised she could no longer ‘sit down and read’ and began to fear she might have undiagnosed ADHD – so she decided to take action and purchased the Nokia model.

Lio told viewers her attention span has increased in just one week using the phone, allowing her to read much more and watch movies ‘without breaks’ in her spare time.

Aidan Radnedge

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