Monday, November 10, 2014

Do You Have Nomophobia?

A better first question, "Nomophobia - what is it?" Well, it is not in the dictionaryBut, it took them until 2006 to add "Google" as a verb to the dictionary, so it can take some time for the "authorities" to catch up with the trends. Some complain that there has been an overuse in America of "phobia." According to Webster's "phobia" is a noun that means "an extremely strong dislike of fear of someone or something."

According to, "nomophobia is a relatively new phenomena" that afflicts cell phone users. Sufferers fear "being disconnected more than anything." People who suffer Nomophobia can experience "negative physical symptoms if the lose their "cell phone or cell phone reception." They may be obsessive about reassuring themselves that they have their mobile device. I know a great many people who cannot keep track of their cell phones. I am not aware of a name for that inability in particular, but now we know the name for the anxiety that results when we can't. 

I did not know that this condition had a name, but I have observed some people who are obsessive about their devices. I sat next to a gentleman on a flight a few years ago who talked persistently about the fact that his phone battery was dead, and how important it was that he find a place to charge when we landed in Atlanta. He was distraught about the dead battery even though, at that time, at 30,000 feet, all cell phones had to be turned off anyway. I remember wondering why he was so worried about his dead battery on a device he was not allowed to turn on in flight anyway.

Coincidentally, there is a group
 trying to raise money for their idea, the "No Phone." It is essentially a chunk of plastic. They compare their product with a "Nicorette patch" and a "placebeo." This "No Phone" has no battery, can't make a call or send texts. There is no camera, but for an extra charge you can get a "selfie upgrade, which is just a mirror that sticks to the phone." The group is trying to raise awareness about Nomophobia, and claims "phone addiction is real. And it's everywhere. It's ruining your dates. It's distracting you at concerts. It's disrupting you in movie theaters. It's clogging up sidewalks."

So, it there is some acceptance for the view that addiction generally can include addiction to, or dependence on, mobile devices. They have begun to study this addiction that we have, essentially, to the modern age. I have seen this addiction in a broad context. Try taking a family of teenagers to one of the few places in America where there is no cell coverage. The howls may deafen you.

I recently observed a group of teenagers sitting together and texting at a school event. Periodically, they would all laugh in near unison. When asked, they revealed they were all engaged with each other in a "group text," the modern, disconnected, equivalent of what we used to call a conversation. They sat together, laughed together, but never said a word to each other except through their phones.

Nomophobia is in the news lately because of "wearables." The condition has primarily been studied as it relates to cell phones. That is people having withdrawal-type symptoms when they lose their device or its connection to the wider world. Now
Engadget reports that physicians have recently reported a case of "Google Glass addiction." 

Google Glass broke onto the technology scene in 2013. It is a computer/smart phone peripheral that consists of an eyeglass frame that you wear, which contains a camera and display. This device puts the world wide web instantly, and constantly, before your eyes. Other wearables include blue-tooth headsets and now devices that monitor our vital signs and physical activity levels.

So, Google Glass displays information for you hands-free. You can see information from the entirety of the Internet, and communicate with the device and thereby the Internet and the whole world using voice commands. The device can take photos and record video. It is currently in the hands of thousands of early-adopters who paid about $1,500 each for the privilege of being among the first.

As a point of comparison, I paid almost that for my first cellular phone years ago, as well as having a subscription with CellularOne that cost $.25 per minute, first minute, every minute. That expenditure back then is the equivalent of about $3,140 today, adjusted for inflation, but the cost comparison nonetheless was striking to me. Being an "early adopter" can be pricey. I can assure that we did not get anxiety about loss of cell service back then, because back then you frankly found yourself without service more often than not.

Perhaps the affect on us is less about the technology and more about how little we like change? Perhaps it is harder to be without something once you are so accustomed to it that its presence is simply taken for granted?

Back to the recent Google Glass Nomophobia case. It involves a 31 year old (yes, that is the "tech generation") Navy serviceman who reportedly presented for in-patient treatment of alcohol abuse, according to
 EngadgetHe engaged in a 35 day treatment process. Until he began that treatment, he reportedly had worn his Google Glasses about 18 hours daily. During his treatment regimen, the doctors concluded that his Google Glass addiction was "more severe" than his alcohol issues.

How did they identify the malady? They said that whenever they asked the patient a question, "he would instinctively reach for his right temple to activate Glass." The device apparently goes dormant when not in use, and reanimates when it is touched. As the patient recovered through treatment, and from the sounds of it withdrawal, "that reflexive movement" did not come up as often. Physicians reported that following treatment, "the man is both less irritable and more focused."

It is not uncommon for people to become irritable when technology is not as dependable as we have come to expect. As an agency, we have transitioned to a near paperless process. If a phone line or T-1 fails, or if someone's computer gets temperamental, I get a call. We become frustrated when the system slows some to process a back-up or other function. During a recent software upgrade an attorney had difficulty filing a document around 1:00 a.m. one morning and was troubled when the system would not accept it. We have come to expect near instant access to information on a 24 hour per day, uninterrupted basis.

Those treating the Nomophobia Google Glass patient noted that he was perhaps pre-disposed, being "prone to compulsive activities in general, not just when using wearables (Google Glass)." The physicians cautioned that "this is also just one incident, so there's no definite evidence that Glass is more alluring than other technologies and substances."

Concerns with wearables also include exposure to radio signals. There are reports that "wearables" like Google Glass "put wireless technology right on the body" and that may increase health risks.
Foxnews reported recently that such devices "increase exposure to radio waves" for consumers. Whether some forms of radio are less likely to cause health concerns is debated; some experts find less concern about "blue tooth" signals as they are "a lower power technology" than others, but concerns remain. 

So, we know technology can help us. But, we may perhaps need to remain conscious that some technology may present health concerns, from radio exposure to dependence issues.

What we might glean from this is that perhaps all technology has some level of allure for some or all of us. Perhaps it is helpful for us to remember that much can still be accomplished without it when necessary. I recently invited you to
"turn off and tune out." Maybe abandoning that cell phone one day a week would be a good start, and would help with our potential for Nomophobia?

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