First, there were disposable cameras. Then there were low rise jeans. Now, Gen-Z’s latest “vintage” obsession is the flip phone — that mid-1990s-era phone that’s suddenly become so popular with millennials.
Today, these smaller, lighter devices — some available for as little as $20 at major retailers like Walmart and Amazon — are showing up in TikTok videos of young people shooting them, rocking their boxes just like previous generations and filming lessons for their achievement. a sloppy and blurry aesthetic through low-quality camerawork.
But most importantly, they like the ability to disconnect—or as much as possible in the year 2023.
“I’m team flip phone revolution,” singer Camila Cabello tweeted Thursday, posing with a TCL flip phone., of good quality. “Maybe I can write the theme song.”
Actress Dove Cameron, who rose to fame on the Disney Channel show “Liv and Maddie,” said in an interview in November that she had switched to a flip phone. Spending too much time on her phone and looking at social media “is really bad for me,” she said.
“I found a little ’90s, Matrix-y flip phone,” Cameron said. “I got a special number for it, it’s really cheap and I think it’s probably really great.”
Cameron said she pulled the plug and switched because she found her social media presence “misleading”. The feeling is widespread between General Zers – and his the impact has been linked to an adolescent mental health crisis.
As smartphones and social media became more prevalent around 2012, so did rates of depression among teenagers, psychologists say. Between 2004 and 2019 the rate of teen depression nearly doubled, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Sammy Palazzolo, 18, a freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has a new routine with her phone when she goes out with friends at night.
She and her friends listen to the latest music on their smartphones as they get ready. Then, when it’s time to leave, they leave those smart devices behind.
Instead, they contact each other only through their rotary phones throughout the night and take pictures with them, despite the now primitive camera. Their gear is a great conversation starter.
“At parties people will say, ‘oh my gosh, is that a flip phone?'” Palazzolo said. “We get to talk to some new people, meet some people, and everybody likes that.”
Reagan Boeder, 18, said she’s trying to pull her sisters into the trend.
“I think people are going to come out with rotary phones more and more just because it’s so fun and nostalgic and honestly a vibe.” Boeder said.
Before she switched phones, Palazzolo found that her nights out in her college town often ended with tears flowing from an unwanted. social media post or text from an ex, “the main 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 to buy to finding the right phone plan. After four hours, Palazzolo bought the AT&T Flex for $49.99; her friends got cheaper models for $19.99 through Tracphone.
Palazzolo’s TikTok encouraging others to buy flip phones has more than 14 million views and over 3 million likes, with hashtags including #BRINGBACKFLIPPHONES and #y2kaesthetic.
“It eliminates all the bad things of college and brings all the good things of a phone,” Palazzolo said. “Which is connecting with people and taking pictures and videos. The photos and videos on this are fire.”
HMD Global is Nokia’s exclusive licensee, said Gen Z is an unusual demographic for the company. Both companies are located in Finland.
“It’s a generation that didn’t have a Nokia as their first phone and is likely to discover our brand through social media,” said Jackie Kates, head of marketing at HMD Global.
Gen Z is used to many features that come with smartphones, from their many applications such as Instagram, Find My Friends or GPS. But there are also security concerns that come with relying on these simple devices. Without the “find mine” tracking feature, Palozzolo said she and her friends stay close to each other and use a buddy system to keep track of who’s where.
Palozzolo wanted to use a rotary phone one summer in high school because he thought it would be “cool.” “My parents said absolutely no, we should be able to track you down,” she said.
Palazzolo is no stranger to vintage technology—she’s been bringing a digital camera to parties since her sophomore year in high school.
And although Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro has a 48-megapixel camera, it lacks the delayed gratification of waiting to develop or download photos to a computer. Popular apps like Hisptamatic and Dazz Cam recreate digital and film photos and have thousands of downloads.
The disposable camera market is projected to grow by $1.23 billion by 2030. Celebrities like TikTokker Charlie D’Amelio and model Emily Ratajkowski have tapped into the 2000s-era digital camera trend.
“I like photos on flip phones because they’re grainy and blurry,” Palazzolo said. “And I think that perfectly captures the atmosphere of going to college.”
Perhaps one reason Gen Z longs for the 1990s and 2000s era is the privacy and lack of carefully curated images. It’s social media at its most casual – candid photo dumps 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 their phone all the time,” Boeder said. “Getting a rotary phone made it more possible.”
Back then, “people were more involved with each other than our phones and social media,” Boeder said. “It seemed like people were just talking to each other more and everything was more genuine and spontaneous.”
HMD Global said many people like the idea of being less available.
“We attribute this shift to many smartphone users beginning to realize that they are spending too much time glued to their devices and have a strong desire to disconnect and ‘be fully present’ to improve the quality of connections their social,” Kates said.
And yes, new Nokia flip phones are still available – the Nokia 2760 Flip sells at Walmart from prepaid brands like Verizon for $19.99. The 2780 can be found on Amazon and Best Buy for $89.99.
In 2022, the International Data Corporation said that the market for foldable phones expected to reach $29 billion in 2025 – a compound annual growth rate of 70%. Samsung has shipped over 10 million units since its first-generation model came out, accounting for more than 88% of the global foldable smartphone market as of 2022.
These are not your $30 flip phones available at Walmart. An unlocked Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 starts at $1,799.99 and the Galaxy Z Flip4 at $999.99.
“Samsung chose to bet on foldable smartphones; a decision it has made is far ahead of its rivals in the number and sales of foldable smartphones,” said Zaker Li, principal analyst at Omdia’s mobile devices team.
Omdia attributed the high price of Samsung’s foldable phones to poor sales of its previous models, but sales “grew rapidly” to 9 million units in 2021, up 309% year-over-year.
Apple need not worry, however – Omdia expects that by 2026, foldable phones will account for 3.6% of the total smartphone market. By comparison, Apple’s market share is more than half of the entire smartphone market.