Generation Z is scrapping smartphones for flip phones

By | December 6, 2018

Mackenzie Bergin, 22, was sick of staring at her iPhone 6s.

“Instagram was a dangerous pull,” she tells The Post. “I just got lost in the void.”

The Brooklyn College student tried to kick the habit: She downloaded time-management apps and changed her display to black-and-white to make scrolling less enticing. But when her phone went on the fritz two months ago, she decided to take a more drastic step — and flipped back to an old-school gadget: an Alcatel 2051 flip phone.

“My friends call me Flippy Minaj,” the graphic design major says.

Despite the apparent ubiquity of smartphones — especially among Bergin’s Gen Z set — the high-tech rectangles’ global sales are plummeting. Research firm Gartner reported a 5.6 percent decline in year-over-year sales in February. Plus, mounting research suggests that smartphones are linked to a host of health issues, including anxiety, depression and trouble sleeping.

Olive Churchwell shuns smartphones these days.
Olive Churchwell shuns smartphones these days.Stefano Giovannini

Combine that with social media ennui and the creepy Big Brother-feeling of targeted ads and location tracking, and you can understand why some digital natives are turning to Stone Age tech — specifically, flip phones.

“It’s just a phone,” says Bergin of her fondness for her flip. “I don’t think it’s trying to get anything out of me. I don’t think it’s trying to identify me to advertisers. I don’t think it’s capable of much, which is kind of nice.”

Olive Churchwell, 22, switched to a dumbphone for similar reasons. The Hudson, NY, resident, who works at a local bar called the Maker Lounge, says she found her old smartphone “weird” and “scary.”

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“It knew things that I didn’t tell it,” says Churchwell, who says her mom pushed her to use the smartphone during a stint in Portland, Ore., to make communicating easier.

She says life just feels simpler with her Pantech Breeze 4 flip phone. Instead of scrolling through feeds during her late-night shift, Churchwell takes a mental break, zoning out while she wipes glasses behind the bar. She uses an iPod to listen to music on the go, and she’s fine with waiting to watch YouTube videos on her MacBook Air at home.

There also are stubborn Luddites, like Wyatt Joslyn, 23. The Philadelphia-based personal trainer tells The Post that he’s never even bothered to own a smartphone.

“I’ma hold out as long as I can,” says Joslyn, who uses a secondhand Samsung flip phone that he bought for $ 15 on eBay.

Wyatt Joslyn takes a gym selfie with his low-tech phone.
Wyatt Joslyn takes a gym selfie with his low-tech phone.Chad States

Joslyn says that while he has a Facebook account to stay in touch with people, he has never been a big fan of social media. And he’s embarrassed by his peers’ gadget obsessions.

“Seeing the level of excess and distraction people have when using smartphones makes me more confident and comfortable with retaining a flip phone,” he says.

Then, you have Gen Z’ers who can’t totally make up their minds, such as 21-year-old Natalie Bell. Although she owns an Honor smartphone, she uses a flip phone when she’s out and about, partly because she finds smartphone data plans too expensive.

“I’m really broke right now,” says the Park Slope resident. Plus, she adds, she’s always hated texting, so “why would I want to spend money on that?”

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The Brooklyn College student’s financial concerns are compounded by her history of accidentally destroying her devices: One former flip died during a wash cycle. She thinks she’s less likely to destroy her smartphone if she doesn’t tote it around — so she keeps it at home, where she treats it like a laptop (hers is broken) and uses it to watch telenovelas on Netflix.

There are a few downsides to going old school. Churchwell and Bergin both say they miss having GPS when they’re on the go — and Bergin says strangers are “shocked” when she has to ask them for directions.

Natalie Bell when she's out on the town.
Natalie Bell prefers a flip phone when she’s out on the town.Annie Wermiel

They also have to deal with the incredulity from their peers.

“I had a girlfriend once who gave me trouble for it,” says Joslyn, though her frustration with his low-tech lifestyle never amounted to anything too serious.

Bell says her friends have learned how to decipher and tolerate her typo-ridden texts, but they still wish she’d up her social media game.

“All of my friends bug me to get an Instagram,” she says.

And Bergin’s friends flat-out tell her they’re “annoyed” that they can’t text her memes — or emojis.

But they say it’s worth it to avoid the screen addiction that plagues so many of their peers.

Besides, Churchwell adds, you can emote without emojis.

“When you’re having a phone call and you’re angry, you can flip it down,” Churchwell says. That, she says, “is the funnest thing about it.”

Living | New York Post