Girl looking at her phone at night

Smartphone Addiction on the Rise: Are Flip Phones Making a Comeback? 


The smartphone is one of the most valued technological innovations of the digital age. It provides users with unlimited information, communication, and entertainment–all contained within a pocket-sized device. According to DataReportal, the most widely used device among consumers in the United States in 2024 is the smartphone, with 97.6% of individuals owning one

The daily average of smartphone usage in America is 6 hours and 5 minutes for Gen Z, 4 hours and 36 minutes for Millenials, 4 hours and 9 minutes for Gen X, and 3 hours and 31 minutes for Baby Boomers. In accordance with current screen time trends, if the average American gets a phone at 12 years old and lives until the age of 76, they would spend more than 4,466 days on their phone. That’s equivalent to 12 years of staring at their phone.

What exactly are people using their smartphones for? Three types of mobile apps are responsible for increased screen time. The first is social media apps, which typically have aggressive algorithms that analyze a user’s behavior to recommend content that continuously aligns with their interests. The second type is streaming apps, which use a similar algorithm as social media, suggesting content that will lead to continuous usage. The back-to-back video recommendations attract users, resulting in hours of streaming. Third are gaming apps. Video games have been notorious for causing addiction among their users; however, because these games are conveniently placed on the smartphone, avoiding them becomes difficult. Mobile games can draw users in with notifications often offering rewards to users who log back into the game. 

Scrolling through social media or playing a mobile game can activate the brain’s reward center and release dopamine, the neurotransmitter primarily associated with processing pleasure. With each video or post, the brain experiences a rush of dopamine; this feeling arises because the content the user is about to encounter can’t be predicted. Although the algorithms are used to recommend content based on user interest, there is still an element of unpredictability, sending users down a bottomless rabbit hole. 

Smartphone addiction is becoming more common, with 74.3% of smartphone users feeling dependent on their smartphones. As a result, social media apps have made an effort to incorporate limits set by users to restrict the amount of time spent on the app. Even so, people have argued that these limits don’t help, as it’s simple to turn them off and continue scrolling. A new approach is being taken to stop this issue: dialing back the clock and exchanging smartphones for flip phones. People are reporting that they are burned out on their smartphones and social media, attempting to put an end to the countless hours spent occupied by screens. 

One such person making the switch is tech entrepreneur, Will Brawley. In an interview, he told USA Today, “If you took an alcoholic who had a problem with alcohol and couldn’t control that, then the best thing to do is to get the alcohol out of the house, right.” For the second year, flip phone sales are up in the United States, with GenZ and younger Millennials actively seeking alternatives to the modern-day smartphone. “Dumbphones,” which are phones with basic functions such as calling and texting, are also becoming increasingly popular. These phones do not come equipped with any additional mobile apps and don’t have any access to the internet, making them a better alternative for those looking to digitally detox. 

Many Big Tech companies are hesitant to embrace the switch to flip phones, as it challenges their revenue streams. These companies often rely on selling subscriptions, cloud services, hardware, and software, as well as advertising and data monetization. The limited functionality of dumbphones makes it difficult to profit in these ways. The long-term impact of this shift remains uncertain, as only a small percentage of the population has exercised interest in the change. Currently, smartphones are still widely used and won’t be going away any time soon. However, there is a growing recognition of the need for a digital detox, leading to a shift in consumer behavior toward simpler devices.