Have you heard of nomophobia? If you’re reading this blog post on your smartphone right now, the definition of this thoroughly modern phenomenon will quickly become all-too familiar. Nomophobia, an abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone phobia,” was coined in a 2010 research study in the UK, which found that nearly 53% of mobile phone users tend to experience anxiety when they lose their phone, run out of battery, or have no network coverage. Those who suffer from this phobia report feeling uncomfortable without constant access to their phone, and feeling nervous at the prospect of not being able to receive text messages or calls.
Could it be another manifestation of “Internet Addiction Disorder?”
In my last post in the Digital Downfalls series, we explored the pitfalls of cell phone addiction, and discussed the ways in which tech companies and app developers capitalize on our natural inclination to seek out the “high” we feel from the “ping” of a message lighting up our phone. Our brain’s reaction to that “ping”—notably the rush of dopamine and adrenaline that keep us coming back for more—is chemically indistinguishable from the rush of drug addiction (or love addiction, for that matter.) We get addicted to things that make us feel really good. But nomophobia is just one indication of this statement’s opposite: our tech habits can also make us feel very, very bad.
As with phone addiction, the proof our tech-driven anxiety is in our brains: according to psychologist Larry Rosen, who studies the negative effects of technology at Cal State University Dominguez Hills, when we put our phones down our brains signal our adrenal gland to produce a burst of cortisol, which triggers a fight or flight response. To relieve this stress signal, we pick up our phone again. This chemical reaction is the reason behind nomophobia, but also behind the very real phenomenon of the “phantom vibrations” we often feel, and our mistaken perceptions of screens lighting up with a message when, in fact, nothing has been sent.
75% of smartphone users are less than five feet away from their phones at any given time. Which leads me to this critical question: Does that constant checking up and checking in, make you happier?
I predict the answer is a resounding “no”. Why? Because these addictive, anxiety-producing patterns and habits are leading to countless psychological problems among a wide majority of our population. Rosen calls this broad issue “iDisorder”: daily use of media and technology result in issues ranging from stress, sleeplessness, and compulsion—and countless others.
We are still in the early stages of assessing the consequences of our relationships with our phones. What, for instance, does this obsession do to our memory? What does it mean to have our entire lives stored in an external device? Importantly, what impact do the relationships inside of our phones have on the relationships outside of our phones? Are we leading ourselves down a path of loneliness and isolation?
I fear the answer is yes. And I think it’s more important than ever to start looking for solutions to this problem right now. In the next part of the series, I will focus on how our smartphones impact our interaction with one another. But for now, I challenge you to start becoming more self-aware of your own anxieties and habits surrounding your smartphone. Next time you reach for your phone to check in, remind yourself that this habit is only feeding negative outcomes. Next time you mistakenly feel a vibration emanating from your phone, put your phone on silent. See what happens. You might find a sense of relief—and I challenge you to reflect upon what this means for your life.
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