My Phone’s Not Dumb, You’re Dumb

by Kevin Burton

   One last petulant blast. That’s all this is, I fear.

   BBC business reporter Suzanne Bearne did a story on the return of the “dumbphone.” I hadn’t heard that anything not a smartphone is considered a dumbphone, but it doesn’t surprise me.

   Neither am I surprised that flip phones like the one I have would come back into fashion.

   My flip phone and I have been the target of some snickering over the years, all of it wrongheaded. 

   Circumstances may force me to the dark side, to join the legion of smartphone users. But for now I’m going to have my say as they say in London.

   Whatever happens, I will not be tethered to a device in the way many people are.

   So let’s drag my wife into this shall we?  Two stories.

   First story, way, way back before we were married, we had just met really, she’s at my apartment, we’re talking, my landline rings. 

   I ignore it.

   “Aren’t you going to get it,” she says, some urgency in her voice.”

   “Just because that thing makes a noise doesn’t mean I have to get up and charge across this room,” I said. It was probably the first Kev 101 lesson for her. 

   Second story: We’re married now, we’re cleaning the gutters and I have to help, she put that in the wedding vows. She is expecting a call so she has her phone with her. 

   For those of you who don’t have gutters or don’t clean them, this requires water, spraying the gutters to clear sediment that has built up.

   You’re ahead of me right?  She gets the phone wet, and it is dead on arrival. 

   Her level of alarm is palpable, and now don’t you even try to laugh at her, because this could be easily be you. I know who you are, you app-obsessed, text-across the table at the restaurant, distracted driving, phone under the pillow, psychology textbook chapter you! 

   Adding to her stress, Jeannette was just about to host one of those estrogen conventions called bunco night. 

   My reaction? I am cool. Flip-phone unflappable. I tell her take my flip phone and call someone in the bunco group and tell them what has happened. Tell them to spread the word.

   The mighty flip phone returned briefly to its place of honor as the go-to (only) phone in the household. 

   It seems the same is happening elsewhere.

   “Seventeen-year-old Robin West is an anomaly among her peers – she doesn’t have a smartphone,” the BBC/s Bearne writes.

“Instead of scrolling through apps like TikTok and Instagram all day, she uses a so-called “dumbphone.”

   “These are basic handsets, or feature phones, with very limited functionality compared to say an iPhone. You can typically only make and receive calls and SMS text messages. And, if you are lucky – listen to radio and take very basic photos, but definitely not connect to the internet or apps.”

   While looking for a replacement handset in a second-hand shop two years ago, West was lured by the low price of a ‘brick phone.’

   Her current handset, from French firm MobiWire, cost her just £8 ($10.61 in US dollars). And because it has no smartphone functionality she doesn’t have an expensive monthly data bill to worry about.

   “I didn’t notice until I bought a brick phone how much a smartphone was taking over my life,” West said. “I had a lot of social media apps on it, and I didn’t get as much work done as I was always on my phone.”

   The Londoner doesn’t think she’ll ever buy another smartphone, but said people are bewildered by her choice. “Everyone thinks it’s just a temporary thing. They’re like: ‘So when are you getting a smartphone? Are you getting one this week?’

   Google searches for dumbphones jumped by 89 percent between 2018 and 2021, according to a report by software firm SEMrush, the BBC reported.

   What these basic phones lack in performance and functionality, they make up for in battery life and durability.

   New York-based Light Phone, which makes dumbphones, says the company recorded its strongest year in 2021, with sales up 150 percent compared with 2020.

   “If aliens came to earth they’d think that mobile phones are the superior species controlling human beings,” joked Light Phone co-founder Kaiwei Tang, “And it’s not going to stop, it’s only going to get worse. Consumers are realizing that something is wrong, and we want to offer an alternative.”

   You hear that?  Something is wrong!

   But, having said all this and having made the case for simplicity, I am probably going to reluctantly go over to the dark side later this year.

   Verizon will no longer support my phone after 2022 and I actually do have a smartphone I just haven’t activated it. 

   Many of the work from home jobs I would like to get require a smart phone.  A smartphone would also allow me to conduct interviews much more easily. 

   And, without a smartphone I can’t make last-minute changes to my fantasy football lineup when I am away from my PC.

   This latter is the factor that could turn the flip phone into a paperweight once and for all.  It’s a reality. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

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