Swapping 5G for 3G : Motivations, Experiences, and Implications of Contemporary Dumbphone Adoption

Annabel Rothschild, Janne Lindqvist

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In highly developed countries where smartphones are both accessible and expected, why are some individuals still choosing to use dumbphones? Dumbphones, as an anachronistic (or, outdated) technology are an unusual
choice when many government systems, business services, and interpersonal relationships make use of the diverse communication methods presented by smartphones. However, dumbphones are increasingly (re)adopted by individuals seeking, among other motivations, a low-distraction digital handset. We investigate the phenomenon of designer dumbphones, or newly developed dumbphones redesigned to meet the needs of dumbphone users, despite dumbphone-unfriendly current technical infrastructural. We report on the results of interviews with eight traditional dumbphone users, five designer dumbphone users, and two designer dumbphone developers. Our findings highlight both the impact of the digital disconnection movement and
dumbphones as tools for mental and physical health, practicing religious devotion, and enacting political disaffiliation. Our analysis takes into account experiences of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the kinds of privilege needed to choose digital disconnection, along with the interpersonal complications that result from doing so. This work contributes to conversations around volitional technical (non)use and disputes the notion that increased communication leads to richer interpersonal interaction. As dumbphone (re)adoption begins to trend in popular media, our goal is to uncover potential sites of digital disconnection and understand how different groups of individuals might experience those sites
Original languageEnglish
Article number125
Pages (from-to)1-40
Number of pages40
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue number CSCW1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2024
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • digital disconnection
  • smartphones
  • non-use
  • dumbphones


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