The Neo-Luddite Cometh?

The last year or so has seen the beginning of a subtle trend towards disconnecting from the always-on world that we live in. Some hipsters have embraced the not-so-smart flip phone, along with film-based cameras and other such curiosities from the technological past. We even got temporarily swept up in it a couple of years ago when I put my smartphone away for a week or so and dusted off my old Motorola Razr. It was an interesting experience, but hardly life-changing. What I learned most was the value of self-control: I didn’t HAVE to check my email as soon as it arrived. It could wait.

As a colleague commented when I broached this subject: “Take responsibility for your life, turn off your phone if you need a break, don’t check your email on Sunday, vacation, not email while on vacation, use Facebook in moderation.  The solution is so simple, this is getting ridiculous.” What can I say? He’s a man of sound convictions.

So, despite some wonderful headlines and reports that say we are entering an era of “Anti-Tech,” I have to believe that this is a hipster niche – or rather a very small niche within the hipster niche – rather than an emerging trend. For most of us, there is still a real need to connect beyond a voice call. Heck, for my kids, the call is the last thing that matters: taking their smartphones away would be like banning TV… literally. The phone is not just about connecting to other people but also (indeed more so) to the content that surrounds us, such as streaming video.

But … and there’s always a “but” … the albeit small resurgence in interest in the flip phone could signify something else. It is less a cry for help, or even a rage against connectivity, and more a yawn of boredom with the current array of smartphones. They are all becoming rather dull and similar. Yes, the world gets excited when a major OEM launches a new “iconic” device, but when the dust settles, not much has changed. They are still the same shape, although the size keeps growing, and still do the same old stuff. Meanwhile, the flip phone has seen almost no innovation in the past five years. It’s no coincidence that I pulled out my old Razr a couple of years ago: it’s still the coolest flip out there with a cult following of its own.

So what I’d really love to see in the New Year, at CES or Mobile World Congress – is a new take on the flip phone. An updated version that stands out and still supports the apps that we all need and claim to love. Let’s update it and create the smart-flip-phone and see if the market can embrace the opportunity. I think I probably could…