Old School Is the New Cool: Retro Tech (Flip Phones, Digital Cameras, and More) Is Making a Comeback
Dust off your old flip phone and digital camera. Old-school tech is making a comeback, and that's great news for the planet and your mental health.
Remember the days of texting friends on your flip phone? Or never going anywhere without your trusty digital camera? Well, prepare for a blast from the past because old tech is making a comeback—and that’s great news for the planet (and our mental health).
While flip phones and digital cameras were must-haves in the late '90s and early '00s, they eventually got brushed aside with the rise of smartphones. But the retro items are stealing the market back.
The hashtag #bringbackflipphones currently has more than 41 million views on TikTok. In addition, searches for "flip phone" have increased more than 140% since 2018. The same goes for vintage digital cameras, which have also seen increased interest from consumers. According to eBay UK, the tail end of 2022 saw a 13% increase in searches for “vintage digital camera” and a 52% increase in searches for “refurbished camera.”
The reason for this new fascination with old-school tech is simple: Gen Z wants a break from smartphones and the negative effects that can come along with them, most notably a decline in mental health. Even celebrities have hopped on the bandwagon, further upping the cool factor: Camila Cabello and Dove Cameron say they're part of the “flip phone revolution” and want to spend less time scrolling on social media, and Bella Hadid and Charli D'Amelio are embracing the Y2K aesthetic by snapping overexposed photos with a digital camera instead of a smartphone.
Opting for old tech versus the latest and greatest isn’t just a fun trend that brings all the feel-good, nostalgic vibes. It’s also sustainable. Using what’s already available is always a better option than buying new. By doing so, you’re reducing resource consumption (every new product requires raw materials and energy to produce), decreasing greenhouse gas emissions that would come from manufacturing, and minimizing waste. Instead of perfectly-good old tech being sent to landfills just because it’s “outdated,” it’s now being celebrated again. But digital cameras and flip phones aren’t the only technology that’s making a resurgence.
Landlines are finding their way back into homes, too. Nathaniel Robbins, co-owner of NoisyMouseWoodworks vintage shop, has noticed an increase in nostalgic purchases of both rotary and push-button phones. He believes popular TV shows initially piqued people’s interest, but the sales have yet to die down.
“Mad Men showed a lot of old office phones with multiple lines and midcentury style, while Stranger Things has a ‘Sculptura’ phone—a phone I have noticed a big demand for in recent years. I call it the 'donut phone,'” he says. “I think people are interested in [landlines] because of nostalgia, novelty, and visual appeal. Look at a cell phone and you see an item that’s basically counting down toward being replaced with another four ounces of plastic, glass, smoke, mirrors, and programs designed to be remonetized every 1 to 2 years. Who would set a modern phone on a shelf as décor? How many cell phones will work for 50+ years doing what they were designed to do?”
Robbins is right—these timeless options are meant to last, while what’s being sold today is generally built to be replaced. It doesn’t help that if broken, repairing new tech like iPhones isn’t easy—something the Right to Repair movement is working on fixing in order to keep millions of phones, computers, and other electronics out of landfills.
For now, one of the best things you can do for the planet is dust off your old flip phone or digital camera before opting for the fanciest new gadget. Who knows—you might enjoy the simplicity... and the peace of mind that comes from not getting a new notification every other second.
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