Does it hurt to be separated from your smartphone?

taking a picture
© Shani Sadicario for Vibe Israel

You're suffering from nomophobia -- and you're not alone.

Have you ever felt panic set in when you realize you’ve left your phone at home or don’t know where it is? You know what it’s like – the accelerated heart rate, the shorter breaths, the frantic searching, the attempts to reassure that nothing critical will happen in a half-hour of separation. It may sound ridiculous to some, but these feelings are real and intense for many smartphone owners.

But what’s really going on? Why are people feeling this way? Can anything be done about it? These questions were asked by researchers in Hong Kong and South Korea, who collaborated on a recent study called “Understanding Nomophobia.” Nomophobia means ‘no-mobile’ phobia and describes the anxiety and discomfort described above. The researchers found that every smartphone owner is affected, to some extent, by nomophobia, but that people who use their phones to “store, access, and share personal materials” suffer the most.

The reason is that heavy smartphone users view their devices as an extension of self. The more personalized one’s smartphone experience is, the greater the attachment. (Think of Google’s automatic classification of photos and generation of collages that “curate the user’s daily life and special memories.”)

Many users rely on their smartphones to cope with multiple aspects of their lives, from communicating with friends and family to keeping tabs on social events to navigation. Teenagers, or “screenagers,” as one psychologist calls them, are particularly prone to FOMO- (fear of missing out) induced panic because they have a higher level of emotional attachment to their phones.

Even the vocabulary used by frequent phone users compared to those in a less phone-active group differs. People in a ‘high nomophobic’ category use specific words to describe their interactions, such as “every,” “alone,” “concentration,” “want,” and – perhaps most interesting – “hurt.” Those in a low-nomophobic group say “game,” “comfortable,” “SMS,” “human,” and “efficient.” From the study discussion:

“The findings from the research model and the semantic networks supplement each other in that the words related to memory, self, and proximity seeking (e.g., ‘memory,’ ‘I,’ ‘my,’ ‘to me,’ and ‘part’) were more frequently used in the high, compared with low, nomophobia group.”

As phone use and technological dependence increase, the researchers warn that nomophobia is only going to become more common and acute, and is worth combating:

“The respondents in the high nomophobia group more frequently reported having wrist and neck pain due to smartphone use compared with the other group. In addition, those in the high nomophobia group were more likely to get distracted from their studies and work. These findings suggest that the problematic use of smartphones can surely induce negative effects not only on users' physical conditions but also on the overall quality of their everyday life.”

How does one fight nomophobia? “Deliberately separating from your phone by turning it off or leaving it at home can reduce dependency and anxiety,” says Dr. Luisa Dillner for The Guardian. The more you do it, the easier it gets. So the next time you find yourself without, take a deep breath. It's going to be fine, and you'll be better off in the long run.

Does it hurt to be separated from your smartphone?
You're suffering from nomophobia -- and you're not alone.

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