March 1, 2017

The First Digital Detox Phone

Snake lovers rejoice. The brick phone is back!

At the 2017 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Finnish company HMD announced they are releasing a revamped model of the Nokia 3310.

The classic phone was a hit in the early 2000s, with more than 126 million sales. Known as a ‘feature’ phone because it offers calls, texts, but pretty much nothing else, the Nokia 3310 was phased out in 2006.

But it’s precisely because of its shortfalls that the Nokia 3310 is making a return.  In an interview with the BBC, HMD Chief Executive Arto Nummela explains:

“It’s almost like a digital detox or a holiday phone. If you want to switch off to an extent but you still need to have a [mobile] lifeline, it’s a brilliant solution.”

A ‘digital detox phone’ sounds paradoxical, but Nummela has a point. The Nokia 3310 presents a balance between being available and getting on with it. You could survive with one, maybe even thrive, if you’re sick of wasting time online.

Some pundits are not convinced and suggest that the return of the Nokia 3310 is a mere marketing stunt. Or at best, a lifestyle product for vinyl loving hipsters.

These cynics have a point, but they could also be missing something bigger. Behind the scenes, the tech industry may be responding to an emerging market. And it could flip the industry on its head.

In the past few decades, technology has been developed on the assumption that consumers want to connect. This belief is so ingrained that many businesses depend on it entirely. Facebook, Snapchat et al., all assume people will exchange their data and eyeballs to connect. Let’s call it the axiom of the attention economy.

But in a gold-rush for a piece of the pie, it’s become a distraction economy, and consumers are responding by detoxing and seeking solitude. Too much connecting is creating a market for disconnecting.

The d-word is dirty in the attention economy. Disconnection presents a dilemma for Facebook, Snapchat, and other businesses that are dependent on eye-balls for ad revenue. So, it’s been ignored.

Until now. The Nokia 3310 is a phone to cater to the disconnection market. It joins PunktFreedom and Brave as tech for people who want to restrict social media use or block ads, so they can sustain their focus. It could be the beginning of a new focus based economy – with Mihaly ‘flow’ Csikszentmihalyi as the patron saint.

This of course, is speculation, and no one may buy the Nokia 3310. But the announcement is a hint that the tech industry is taking the detox movement seriously. I’ve previously criticised the digital detox for being too demand side focused. This is a supply side response.

Apple and Samsung will be watching closely.