The Nokia Renaissance: why some are ditching their smartphone in favour of the beloved brick
Of all comatose relics of the early noughties – The Spice Girls, iPod, Tamagotchi, garish fashion – the humble Nokia brickphone is not an obvious candidate for resuscitation. Yet it has been granted to rear its chunky head once more, from what was at one point the most recognisable phone name in the world, before descending into near-bankruptcy. Nokia’s revival of its 6310 model whisks us back to a simpler time, when the paradigm-quaking advent of smartphones and social media was an unthinkable prospect, when having a phone that fit in the pocket represented a pinnacle of technological modernity. To be able to play even a rudimentary game like Snake on a mobile, was an act of defiant coolness – as if to say I’m doing this because I can, sucker.
Yet I doubt it is merely nostalgia luring people to this type of device. Nokia’s new-old phone has not come out of the blue, rather, it capitalises on a trend of social mavericks shunning their smartphones, and often by extension, social media. This crowd seems to be largely formed of Zoomers, those most susceptible, and accustomed, to the perils of the Information Age, though the appeal of a data detox (as with smartphone use) transcends generations– Rihanna and Scarlett Johansson were spotted with burners. Some have seen this trend as a response to the trauma of Covid and social isolation, though perhaps it is more indicative of the mental health crisis that has arisen over the past decade, the result of increasingly pervasive technologies and demanding social expectations in the online age.
Not to mention the threat to privacy phones pose. That so much personal data is in one place, and activity and location trackers are accepted for the sake of a ‘personalised experience’ is a disaster that does not even need to wait to happen. Though they are by no means the only medium where personal data is collected and breached, smartphones are undoubtedly the most ubiquitous and maleficently accessible. The term ‘panopticon’ is apt in describing our relationship to corporations now, though their surveillance of us is enabled by a digital, not physical architecture. This has been a potential issue throughout the growth and expansion of the internet, but only in modern phones has it thrived so insidiously. Nor is it surprising how extensively Orwell’s 1984 is referenced, given the commodification of our data and identities that has rapidly become standard practice for businesses, social media giants and governments. This, on top of real-world surveillance tech, have already paved the way for a startling advancement of China’s citizen-monitoring activities, while our own government has faced criticism for measures, though not fully-realised, in a similar vein. Big Brother indeed.
With things having taken a turn for the dystopian, the prospect of a tech counterculture emerging is unsurprising. The brick (or any of its contemporaries, like the satisfying flip phone) isn’t much of a messiah, but it may just hark a new movement – and approach to tech.
If nothing else, it can confidently boast being no fluff, no faff: a phone that is a phone. There is a poetic simplicity to it, especially when put against the large, feature-packed and unwieldy devices which have become the standard in recent years. This convention continues the decade-long transformation of phones from largely practical devices with a side of entertainment to life devices where entertainment, multimedia, communication, news, work, documentation and photography converge. Manufacturers have clocked that many users want to use their phone for absolutely everything, a concept that would have been laughable only a few years ago. This is why there is something satisfying in seeing a small, though not insignificant, body of consumers rebel by seeking the least frivolous style of phone imaginable. Maybe they are making a statement, maybe they want to regain control of their life, but in any case they are sticking their tongues out to Big Tech (symbolically, if not practically, in the case of buying that new Nokia, since the Finnish manufacturer is till a phone giant. Oh well).
However, while it’s easy to romanticise the abandonment of omnipotent pocket-sized tech, I can gather why many would be reluctant to make such a dramatic swap, even knowing its potential benefits for wellbeing. Choosing a noughties-style Nokia today is not really the intuitive choice it was back then. It is, admittedly, a bit of faff. For one, they are just a bit too small and finicky for comfort. Back when the original iPhone was introduced, it seemed its touch-screen would be reliably inferior then the tried-and-true tactile number pad, but returning to it feels markedly less smooth, for texting particularly.
There is also no getting around the fact that smartphones have made our lives easier in many regards. Their appeal has consistently been in their comprehensiveness – they have, in fact, given us the space to think about more important matters. We have become relentless taskmasters, they the impeccable servants who manage the dirty work and helps us mitigate the nonsense. Lets put things in perspective: the smartphone is a marvel of engineering that we have somehow become too spoilt, too jaded to fully appreciate. That we use it haphazardly is not its fault.
Besides, if we are so susceptible to misusing tech then leaving our phones should only be the beginning. Computers are equally as dastardly – anybody growing up in the 2000s know they were the go-to for many of the things we now relegate to our mobile devices. We would also be remiss to forget the effect of TV, a medium that has been the target of unyielding criticism for the many decades before phones could stream video – from not only puritans, but health experts.
Still, I digress, there is no reason to turn this into an ultimatum: stop using all of the media tech at your disposal or shut up. Making small changes, like disabling all but the most important notifications, deleting social media apps and imposing a daily limit for phone use are all useful amendments that work as a good compromise, or starting point.
Yet ditching the smartphone outright opens up the daunting yet liberating potential for a more present engagement with the world. It’s like removing the stabilisers from a bike – scary at first but ultimately freeing, allowing us to use our own intuition to navigate the world – a significant step in and of itself.
Though smartphones may be an extreme luxury, it doesn’t mean quitting them is easy. What may be freeing in the long run will be a bit like severing a limb at first. Deliberately inconveniencing oneself is often a mark of privilege, charity, piety or insanity but we should not be deterred by these labels. What we have to gain from this experiment could be so much greater than the practicality lost.Anyway, the new Nokia has a 21-day battery – and Snake Two, the greatly anticipated sequel. If that isn’t a reason to make the switch, I don’t know what is.