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'Dumbphone' helps young people break the cycle of social media addiction

'Dumbphone' helps young people break the cycle of social media addiction


A mobile phone shop owner in London said he was seeing an increasing number of parents bringing their pre-teen children into his shop to buy “dumb phones” to limit their access to social media and the internet.

Dumb phones, also known as simple or feature phones, can only make calls and send text messages but cannot access social media apps or the internet.

“When we ask, parents always say they don't want to give their kids the internet,” said Bunty Mittal, owner of Mobile Junction. “A basic phone for calls and texting, that's it.”

Mittal said he opened Mobile Junction in 2019 and at the time, it was mostly senior citizens who bought dumb phones due to their ease of use. But over the past year, he has noticed a new trend of parents buying dumb phones for their children.

More than 98,600 dumbphones were sold in Canada in 2023, up 25% from 2022, according to technology market research firm Counterpoint.

Breaking the social media cycle

Smartphones and social media go hand in hand, with popular social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter designed to hold users’ attention.

Emma Duerden is the Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience and Learning Disabilities and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Western University. (Courtesy of Emma Duerden)

“These apps appear to be designed to reinforce behavior,” said Emma Duerden, the Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience and Learning Disabilities and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Western University.

Duerden said social media platforms are designed to keep people expecting notifications such as likes, comments and shares.

“This happens in unpredictable patterns, so you never know when it's going to happen and it can make you want to look at your phone all the time,” she says. “Unfortunately, this can even reinforce addictive behaviors in young people.”

While mobile phone use could be a great way to break the cycle of social media addiction, Duerden said he would like to see more information and awareness spread about the potentially harmful effects of social media.

“For the Teens Who Are Suffering [dumbphones] A workaround for them may be to limit the amount of social media they are exposed to each day,” Duerden said.

“Social media is a multi-billion dollar industry and deeply ingrained in our daily lives. To make any significant change, we need a push from the top.”

“TikTok has ruined my brain,” Brandon Velazquez said, saying he'd rather stay part of the “Apple ecosystem” than switch to a dumb phone. (Alpha Rana/CBC)

“TikTok has ruined my brain and I'm just trying to get it back,” said Daniel Oyefuga, a Western University student who owns an iPhone 15.

Oyefuga said he was considering switching to a dumb phone after realising scrolling through social media was reducing his ability to concentrate.

“It's getting hard to put my phone down,” he said.

But for others, it's not so easy.

Marwan El Nashar runs London Rock on Dundas Street and uses social media and other smartphone apps in his business.

“I can't give it up completely because I need it for work,” he said. “I can't imagine driving long distances without having directions on my phone.”

Marwan El Nashar works at London Locks on Dundas Street. (Alpha Rana/CBC)

For some, it's hard to break away from their smartphones because of their convenience and connectivity.

“I love Apple and the Apple ecosystem,” said Brandon Velazquez, an iPhone 11 Pro Max owner, adding that he wouldn't switch to Dumbphone because he feared being cut off from his family.

“I FaceTime my sister,” he said. “I can't FaceTime my sister or my parents. It's not going to work.”

Buying a dumb phone also has cost advantages: While a smartphone can cost over $1,500, most dumb phones can be purchased for under $100.




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