Last week, CNET revealed that nomophobia, the fear of being out of mobile phone contact, is on the rise. Apparently, two in three adults suffer from anxiety when not reachable, up from one in two a year ago.
The growing prevalence of nomophobia is unsurprising in light of our ever-increasing obsession with our handheld devices. It is now a documented phenomenon that people experience phantom mobile phone vibrations. Another study has revealed that three quarters of Americans use their mobile phone in the bathroom -- and it’s a safe bet that the phone isn’t getting washed afterwards. And many people -- myself included -- now say the word “LOL” when told a joke.
So I have a confession to make: this fixation on our phones scares me. It wasn’t all that long ago that I didn’t have a mobile phone at all, or that all it could do was make phone calls. Now I observe myself glancing at it, periodically waking it up just to make sure I haven’t missed anything. I hear Damon Horowitz in my head reminding me that I have a stronger opinion about my choice of handheld device than about the moral framework I use to make decisions. I wonder if the remnants of my humanity are slipping away, winging their way through the ether on so many cellular frequencies and leaving me devoid of ethics or empathy.
I am afraid, not of being without cellphone contact, but of what I am becoming. I have nomophobophobia: the fear of being afraid of being without cellphone contact.
I do get anxious when I don’t have access to a cellphone; my nomophobophobia is not ungrounded. So I fight it with enforced separation. I go away with my husband in our campervan to places with no cell signal. I also take planes. It used to be just the smokers who fidgeted from withdrawal on long-haul flights; now it’s everyone. Far from making me happy, the creeping advance of mile-high WiFi is an unwelcome intrusion into the disconnected quiet of the friendly skies. And, despite having a fancy new Samsung Galaxy IIS, I haven’t upgraded my data plan; the outrageous expense of going over my measly 50MB limit is a powerful disincentive to surfing the Net on the small screen.
Unlike nomophobia, I find nomophobophobia to be healthy. It is a fear that prompts me to put the phone down periodically. It is a fear that continually provokes important questions: “Am I paying attention here? Am I even aware of my surroundings? Am I really seeing the person in front of me?” It is a fear that reminds me to pay attention to my relationships lest they disappear from sheer neglect.
I know I am not alone in battling these temptations. This Sunday is Moodoff Day, an attempt to help people be less dependent on our technology. In a telling indication of how needy we’ve become, Moodoff Day doesn’t even ask us to go 24 hours without the Web; all the organizers ask is that you remain Net-free from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.: “Breakfast Before Browsing.”
All things can be good or bad, depending on our use of them. Cell phones are obviously not evil, and I obviously use mine quite a lot. But it exists to serve me, not the other way around. If I cannot control the impulse to monitor it obsessively, I have a problem, and it’s time to take action. But only until ten in the morning.