The first phone I ever had was a Sony Ericsson W880i that came in a limited edition burnt orange colour. It had stiff little metal lines for buttons and I ‘Bluetoothed’ over all the N-Dubz songs possible. But my mobile had no particular feature—there were no compartments for the main part of the phone to shoot out of, no keyboard click-clacks specific to the Blackberry and most importantly, it was flat, no flips in question. Unlike my first fake love.
Because my parents did not want my younger sibling to slobber over their own very real devices, my younger sibling was bought a faux Motorola Razr. It sat in the basket of toys, among the lego, building blocks and countless tiny cars that were painful to step on. That, when I really think about it, was my first phone.
With a snap of that Razr, I used to pretend to take important business calls or dramatically end a call with a lover. Ugly Betty was also at its peak, so I thought I could be Marc and Amanda’s Justin, flipping open the screen to take TMZ-esque pictures, something juicy enough to circulate through the magazine’s office. Trying to see how fast I could text if I were ever allowed to get a real flip phone was my favourite thing to do.
With our nostalgia for the noughties stronger than ever, it only makes sense that we start mimicking this era again, and it’s no wonder that Samsung and Motorola are taking advantage of this nostalgia to bring back old phone models after nearly two decades. But what is it about flip phones that makes us want to go back in time?
Our phones contain critical information about our lives. We carry it around and use it for every little aspect of our day. The Razr can’t schedule your meeting—whether it is a Google Hangout or a real-life one. It can’t organise thousands of photographs, teach you a new language, count your footsteps, find your potential spouse or next shag, who you’re calling the most or even how many times you’ve picked it up. Remember back when you couldn’t even pay with your phone? How ludicrous!
When asking Twitter about what exactly makes flip phones so irresistible, the answers came flooding in. Founder of 23Code Street, a coding school for women, Anisah Osman Britton reminisced about the time her ex-partner threw his cellphone against the wall and “hit it so hard it left a dent.”
“The phone was just chilling, in perfect condition, like nothing had happened. Whereas my first Google Pixel fell off of my bed onto the carpet and cracked,” wrote Osman Britton.
Another response said, “Phones that don’t have read receipts so I can happily pretend I didn’t see a text,” a great point for why the flip phone is looked at through a rose-tinted lens. But whether it were stories such as “knowing where which letters are on what numbers and how many clicks it took in order to become skilled enough to send texts without looking at them under the desk in school” or “My Motorola Razr flip phone made constant weird noises and I’m pretty sure I exposed my boobs to harmful radiation by hiding it at home in my bra,” I think what users are actually missing the most are the individual stories that come with their old phones.
There’s a scene in Friends where an incessant digital sound is heard and although everyone initially looks down to see if it’s their beeper (that’s a whole other conversation) or cell, one of the cast claims “It’s mine!” because of the unique ring tone it has. Nowadays, we always leave our phones on silent or vibrate. Even if we did have our iPhones on loud, there wouldn’t be much point since everyone’s ring tone is pretty much the same. When I hear a different ring tone, I look at the Android as if it’s speaking in a different language—and please don’t ask me to work with one.
The era of the flip phone meant that although everyone was a part of the ‘snapping game’, there was still a lot of personality involved. Some flip phones advanced into swiping in only one direction a la Stacey Slater in Eastenders and came in metallic tones while others remained in matte black colours to mean business. Your flip phone was an extension of you. The kind of model you went for reflected what kind of ‘personality’ you have. In 2020, how does our phone make us stand out? Do we use our phone cases to showcase our personality or is it what’s on the inside of our phone that matters? And what exactly is inside our phones apart from the curated version of ourselves that we’ve created online?
What everyone truly misses about flip phones is the ability to physically put our phones away. Regardless of the technological and social progress we’ve made, humans are rather simple. If something is open and available to explore, like a cheese and fruit board you keep saying you’ve had enough of, we’re all grazers at heart that will have another nibble. Or, in this case, pick up, screenshot and swipe. It’s even harder now to put down your phone when your whole work, love and social life is on there. The end of a flip phone conversation meant the conversation was actually done—there were no excuses, no addiction, and no ‘I’ll read it later’.
Flip phones rarely exhausted you because they just didn’t have enough options to do so. With our iPhones and Androids, many of us have interventions with ourselves at 7:30 am on why we’ve skipped a gym class before work in order to mindlessly watch how to make the perfect breakfast smoothie. For some of us, not having those phones would mean not having the same job we have now.
So, will flip phones make a genuine comeback? In my opinion, no, it won’t work. First of all, the new generation can’t even remember how a flip phone works, and for the rest of us, we’ve sadly moved on. The flip phone was a sentiment to simpler times, and now we’re in a time of convenience. That’s why, dear Samsung, there’s no need for flip phones to get an upgrade—some things are just better left in the past.
Mental health has a lot of stigmas attached to it, and for many of us, speaking out freely about our struggles can be difficult. Somehow, over the years, young people started looking for comfort through memes on social media, which allow them to speak about their concerns with a little more ease. But why is it that, for many of us, it is easier to share our issues through jokes and humour?
Instagram is a paradoxical place. It is no secret that social media platforms are immensely harmful to our wellbeing, and, surprise, surprise—according to a study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health in 2017, Instagram was proven to be the worst social media platform for our mental wellbeing. There are endless reasons for this, be that the constant anxieties of ‘keeping up’ or comparing ourselves to others.
But users on Instagram are slowly changing the scene, all the while trying to make the platform a better place—whether it’s influencers taking a pledge to be more transparent, or people advocating for Instagram to remove the ‘like’ feature. The platform also serves as a home to an ever-growing online meme community, one that is driving the conversation around mental health, and de-stigmatizing it one meme at a time.
Mental health is a heavy topic, but it doesn’t have to be. “I think there is a lot of great support and conversation, but it is on a more serious tone. And while I think that is necessary, I also think that the seriousness and the weight of it sometimes add to the pressure and the stigma of the illness itself,” @thementallytrillest told Screen Shot. @thementallytrillest is one of the few Instagram accounts prompting the conversation around mental health, through funny, witty and self-loathing memes.
Cori, perhaps better known as @manicpixiememequeen, started her meme account as a way to cope with her own struggles. In 2017, she was experiencing some mental health issues, and her uncle had just tried to commit suicide. “I did what any other person would do: I made an anonymous ‘finsta’ to shout my personal problems out to the void of the internet in the form of memes. The creation process made me feel productive, rather than feeling like I was wallowing or pitying myself,” she told Screen Shot. “@manicpixiememequeen has given me so many incredible opportunities to generate discussion about mental health,” Cori added. She went on to speak at Stanford University, and she even had several therapists message her, thanking her for posting the memes. “Some of their patients have used my memes to start a conversation in private sessions,” Cori explained.
For some members of the older generations, memes do not carry as much cultural significance as they do for the new gen. Of course, depicting our personal struggles through memes may seem like an unconventional coping mechanism, but when it comes to mental health, our generation is the most outspoken one. Memes make difficult conversations easier to have—somehow seeing somebody go through the same struggles as you, and still be able to laugh about it makes you feel like you can relate to people, and in the end, it makes you feel a bit better.
“Mental health issues can feel and be incredibly alienating, and memes that address these issues help people feel less alone and may even encourage them to speak and seek help,” Alia, also known as @memesturbationation on Instagram, shared with Screen Shot. She explained that memes not only help her process her feelings, but help her acknowledge them as well. And this ability to feel less isolated, and to relate to other people online is what creates such a wonderful community, one that is safe and welcoming, and one that uses memes as a unique language for today’s century, driving the growing conversation around mental health.
Odie, known as @not.yr.boyfriend online, has been ‘meming’ since early 2016, and has built a helpful community since then. The purpose of their work is to “embody the work I am doing on myself and in my community.” They explain that they wouldn’t describe their account as a mental health page, but instead as a project of self-work that aims to shift humanity towards a culture of accountability. Memes have the potential to drive a conversation and shift opinions, be that for political or social reasons, meaning that disregarding them or the work that meme creators do would be unfair.
And yet, memes about mental health are still met with a lot of criticism. For example, @memesturbationnation previously received some criticism for her work, accusing her of romanticising and trivialising mental health, to which she responds “I think that’s bullshit. It’s just more people trying to shame and silence those who experience mental health issues. I’ve received way more messages thanking me for sharing my experience with mental illness through memes.” Is it really fair to silence creators who predominantly create a safe space as a coping mechanism of their own, and who are helping so many people online?
Mental health is a sensitive subject, and it is understandable why some people don’t engage with memes depicting subjects of their personal struggles. But Instagram can be used as a tool that many people use to reach out to others who are experiencing the same thing, to let them know that they are not alone, and to show and receive support. The beautiful thing about meme pages on Instagram is how many of them there are. Be it astrology memes, political memes, art memes or mental health memes—there is content for everyone, and a community for all. Mental health meme pages on Instagram are a reminder that it’s okay not to be okay, and they’re accessible for everyone, at any time.