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The new Nokia 3210 is the ultimate newstalgia phone – but what does “newstalgia” mean?

published on 7 min read
Nokia 3210 (2024) in Grunge Black

Nokia 3210 is back. But the return of the iconic "dumbphone" is just one piece of a much bigger retro-looking picture.

Tech moves fast. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but just to put that into perspective, you can visit an online shop like ours and purchase a smartphone that is massively more powerful than supercomputers from the ‘80s. And as impressive as that is, it’s the rate at which technology has been evolving in recent decades that really gives pause for thought. There’s a visualization from Our World in Data that maps the evolution of technology from over 3 million years ago. Take a look. It’s dizzying.

If the nature of technology is to constantly improve – if it’s part of our role as innovators to look forward to the next big thing, why is there a whole movement that favors looking back? This trend is known as “newstalgia,” the appeal of combining what we remember fondly from the past with the innovations of the present – and it’s pretty big in mobile technology. Case and point: the new Nokia 3210, the iconic retro feature phone remade for today, complete with modern conveniences that we’re used to seeing in our smartphones, like Bluetooth® connectivity and USB Type-C™ charging.

So, with the relaunch of this classic feature phone, we thought it was worth taking some time to unpack the whole “newstalgia” trend. To get to the bottom of newstalgia and where it comes from, we first need to untangle a pretty big web of social, technological, and cultural factors. That’s what this post is about. Here are three facts that help us understand what newstalgia is and why it’s trending in mobile tech today.

“Newstalgia is the appeal of combining what we remember fondly from the past with the innovations of the present.”

Millennials and Gen Z are key players in driving the newstalgia trend – they’re looking back with curiosity to eras they didn’t personally experience. The phenomena of trends re-emerging from previous generations is nothing new – but what has changed is how long it takes for an idea to come into its revival. Trends nowadays are much shorter than they used to be – sometimes less than a decade long. Why? Technology, of course. More specifically, social media.

Although Millennials and Gen Z look back fondly to those pre-digital and early digital years, they are still very much digital natives. And that really is at the heart of why some trend cycles come and go much quicker now. Combine the short-form video format with social media algorithms and the power to like and share, and voilà: you’ve got the perfect climate for old ideas to re-emerge and go viral. So, it’s no surprise that trends like Y2K and fashions from as late as the 2010s have already returned to the limelight.

Newstalgia fact 2. Digital fatigue is real

Newstalgia in terms of fashion and design is mainly about aesthetics. Those aesthetics evoke memories and emotions related to those earlier times of course, but that particular bubble of newstalgia is about the looks. Newstalgia in mobile tech is a little different. Style plays a part, but a phone is something you interact with. You talk to people on it, you play with it. It’s yours, and it’s personal.

A look at mobile technology through newstalgic eyes isn’t so much about harking back to the style of an earlier generation – it’s about harking back to some of the behaviors of an earlier generation. How we used our phones in good old Y2K was very different from today – there were less apps, less notifications, and less digital spaces in which we had a presence to maintain. Why then have the tech-savvy, digital-native Millennial and Gen Z folk warmed up to the idea of mobile phones disconnected from all of that? Because being constantly connected can take its toll.

Mobile devices are great for staying in touch – until you get too much of a good thing. There is no shortage of reports and studies warning us of the risks of excessive screentime. While smartphones can help us maintain meaningful connections, using them too often can have a negative impact on our wellbeing.

The key is balance. It’s not about ditching your smartphone or tablet entirely – it’s about recognizing the need to occasionally take a break from online life. And that’s pretty much what newstalgia is about – it’s right there in the name, a portmanteau of “new” and “nostalgic” – the best of both worlds. In a previous post, we took a look at the effects of switching to a "dumbphone" for a week. Sure enough, the break from online life had a positive impact. Give it a try.

A woman holding the 2024 model of Nokia 3210
Free yourself from digital fatigue. Go newstalgic with the new Nokia 3210.

Newstalgia fact 3: Reinvention is a big part of technological innovation

The road to innovation isn’t a straight line – it’s an “S.” It starts with research and development, with not much to show in terms of performance at the early stage. Then there is a turning point – the quality of the thing being developed starts to improve more quickly. Then we plateau again, when improvements start to slow down, and more R&D is needed over time. That’s what the S-curve model tells us about tech innovation in a nutshell. One “S” on a graph can represent one wave of innovation. Pop a second “S” just above and to the right of the first one and you’ve got the second wave of innovation – the reinvention of that technology.

Take the Nokia 3210 for instance – first launched in 1999, it had a 1.5” monochrome display and a 1250 mAh battery. Today’s version has a 2.4” color display and a 1450 mAh battery,1 plus heaps of modern touches like Bluetooth® 5.0 and USB Type-C™ charging. The size of the handset is almost identical, but this modernization is possible because where we are with mobile technology today is that much more advanced than 25 years ago.

With all of that said, Nokia 3210 hasn’t come back with these modern additions just because it’s possible – it’s made a comeback because of the total sum of things we’ve covered here: Y2K is trending; people want to recover from digital fatigue; and we still rely on devices for maintaining meaningful connections. In other words, Nokia 3210 is back because of the emergence of newstalgia in mobile tech.

Is “newstalgia” here to stay, or just another fad?

Trends come and go – that’s their nature. But newstalgia is bigger than just a single trend – it’s like looking through a lens that shows us the best bits of today and layers them on top of what we can learn from the past. What that viewpoint will come to encompass will inevitably change as time goes on.

Right now, the newstalgic eye has set its gaze on fashion, beauty products, interior design, and more. As for mobile tech, taking the newstalgia view means looking back to the years when social media and scrolling didn’t dominate our screen time – and turning to modernized feature phones to rediscover healthier phone habits.

USB Type-C™ and USB-C™ are trademarks of USB Implementers Forum. All specifications, features and other product information provided are subject to change without notice.

¹ Battery has limited recharge cycles and battery capacity reduces over time. Eventually the battery may need to be replaced.

Source: “Technology over the long run: zoom out to see how dramatically the world can change within a lifetime,” Our World in Data: https://ourworldindata.org/technology-long-run

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