For too long, the image of burner phones has been associated with cheating husbands and Walter White in Breaking Bad. After all, burner phones are traditionally about hiding something. Why else would you purchase a cheap, prepaid phone if not to partake in something incriminating?
But in 2023, the girlies are reclaiming burner phones. On TikTok, 18-year-old student Sammy K and her group of friends have recently taken to going out at night with only a flip phone. No iPhone, no flashy Android smartphone — nothing but a bedazzled, foldable mobile with a keypad.
“We realised that every single problem that we have on a night out, everything that leads to us crying, everything that leads to us having a bad hookup, everything that leads to us having a bad time, stems from our phone while we're out,” she says in a TikTok video that’s been viewed over 11.7 million times.
The idea arose from noticing a friend who always had a great time on a night out. “She's always in the present moment. She always finds… friends when she's out. It's just so much better of an experience,” Sammy says. The conclusion she came to is that because this friend doesn’t spend any time on her phone when she’s out, she’s guaranteed to have a good time.
As much as social media, 24/7 connection with our friends and access to dating apps have given us, they’ve also wreaked havoc on our social lives and fuelled a lot of regret (particularly when alcohol is part of the picture).
Cynical commenters have pointed to “self-awareness” as a means to combat phone-related issues. To that, Sammy pushes back. “I'm taking steps to address the problem, right? We collectively know that we're addicted to our phones.” There has been a myriad of apps, hacks and tech that seek to crush our phone obsessions, but with mixed results. So this group of Gen Z is taking matters into their own hands.
The prospect of being able to eliminate accidental drunk posts, drunk texts and bad hookups, while still being able to connect with people and take (albeit poor quality) photos and videos on a night out feels liberating. The rise in the flip phone aesthetic is mirrored by the projected revival of indie sleaze and the onslaught of y2k everything. Technology-wise, digital cameras and meta selfies have similarly followed the trendy aesthetic of low-quality imagery.
Grainy, overly saturated, low-megapixel imagery captures a candidness that can’t be recreated with an iPhone’s burst mode. It’s also why Refinery29 Style & Beauty Writer Millie Roberts is hunting down a flip phone to take with her to her next music festival.
“It feels like the next evolution from the digital camera renaissance on TikTok,” she says. “I don’t know if I'm brave enough to leave my smartphone behind as campground service is already patchy as is, but the novelty of taking photos on a low-res camera might keep me in the present more. Thankfully, newer flip phones still have Bluetooth so I can still upload all the piccies to Insta.”
Smartphones do provide a safety blanket — there's wifi, maps and tracking systems. But Sammy shares that all her friends with party burner phones have the emergency contacts of their parents or guardians stored on their phones, and their closest contacts also have their flip phone numbers if they need to be reached.
“Times existed before we had [smartphones] and people were fine. A lot of that fears [are] just mental blocks [of] people being like, ‘I can't exist without my phone’ because that's what we've all been told to believe,” Sammy adds. “You're gonna find your way home, it's gonna be ok because people have been doing it forever. I mean, literally 15 years ago, no one had a [smart]phone.”
In the age of instant connection, it’s not uncommon to feel more disconnected than ever. With shiny new phones released every other month, the novelty of a shitty old phone that can only do the most basic things can bring back the fun and spontaneity of a night out.
The other night, Sammy called up her roommate who was staying in when a song her roommate loved was playing. “I love just calling people when I'm out… “She [said], ‘[it] was literally my favourite thing that you called me’.”
Could 2023 be the year we’re all carrying flip phones, à la Hilary Duff in A Cinderella Story? Hey, if Nomad and Princeton Girl can make it work, who’s to say we can’t?