By Margo White
You probably know the feeling – you’ve left your phone at home and you feel weird, anxious even, disconnected from the world. Do you have the symptoms of “nomophobia” (short for No Mobile Phobia), a new term for mobile phone addiction?
Nomophobia is often linked with Fear of Missing Out (commonly referred to as FOMO) – typically, compulsively using your phone to find out what everyone is doing, and getting anxious if they seem to be having more fun than you.
But are you using your phone, or is your phone using you?
You’re unlikely to die from nomophobia and most studies looking at it have focused on adolescent and student populations, people of an age more prone to impulsivity and sensation-seeking behavior. According to a recent article in the Economist, millennials look at their phones on average more than 150 times a day. It’s not clear if nomophobia affects the population as a whole, and there’s no clear definition of what it actually is or a consistent framework for studying it, but it’s becoming apparent that problematic mobile phone use is an emerging problem to which many of us are vulnerable.
In addition, problem phone use is linked to anxiety and depression. Even being separated from the phone for a short time can lead to physiological increases in heart rate and blood pressure. Some neuroscientists and psychiatrists suggest that being on the phone all the time over-stimulates the brain, disturbing sleep cycles and preventing the brain from going into what psychologists call the Default Mode Network, the creative state we enter when daydreaming or between waking and sleep.
Many psychiatrists say that only a percentage of people are actually addicted to their mobile phones, but that many of us are overusing them. It’s hard to say at which point overuse becomes an addiction, but probably the point at which you know you shouldn’t be on the phone (because you’re driving, because you’ve got work to do, because you’re supposed to be sleeping, because you’re on the phone so much it’s affecting your primary relationship), and yet you can’t keep away from it.
Time to disconnect, then, or at least a bit? Some people are, using technologies to reduce or at least control the extent to which people interact with their devices. Some are replacing their smartphones with phones that don’t have the functionality of smartphones, or using apps that track, filter, and limit smartphone usage.
But it may be that we just need more acronyms. We have FOMO, but some have mooted JOMO, for the Joy of Missing Out.