There is no denying that technology has become an important part of contemporary life. Almost everywhere I go people are snapping selfies or walking with their heads buried in their phone. Our smartphones, tablets and computers have provided us with efficient ways to keep to our schedules, find answers to many of life’s “questions”, without thumbing through an encyclopedia, and video-chatting with faraway loved ones when we can’t arrange an in-person visit. At some point, however, an over-attachment to our technology devices can morph into an addiction, causing withdrawal symptoms like stress, anxiety, and even sheer dread at the thought of being cut off from said connectivity.
The term nomophobia is defined as an overwhelming, irrational, or overexaggerated fear (phobia) of being without one’s cell phone (NO- MObile-Phone phOBIA). And yes, it’s really a thing!
Let’s face it: We’ve all walked the technology-driven, obsessive-compulsive tightrope to varying degrees. The panic that ensues when we leave home and realize we forgot our cellphone. The anxiety that drives us to check and re-check for messages, especially when waiting for someone special in our lives whom we are hoping will call. At the slightest vibration or buzz we rip through our purses or pockets to read and respond to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter posts. Or we might be out with friends in the middle of a conversation when their phone rings and they leave us hanging while they chat with who-knows-who. I once had a weekly walking partner who frequently spent the entire walk “catching up” on her personal phone calls while walking along side me. We can’t deny that we have become dependent on technology. We use our phones (tablets, computers) to find the best local pizza joint, the nearest gas station, or even give us directions to our destination. We can barely resist the temptation to get lost in a quagmire of YouTube videos or ordering items we never realized we needed until fell down into the rabbit hole of endless online browsing.
Several years ago, the Italian government drafted a bill to fight nomophobia or technology addition out of concern that young people were living more in the virtual world, than in the real world. The Italian Association of Technological Dependance reported that half of young Italians aged 15-20 consult their cellphones AT LEAST 75 times per day. Up to 81% of Italians ages 18-34 admit using their smartphones or tablets in bed. The Italian Pediatric Society found that some parents use their smart phones to distract or quiet babies under 12 months old.
And just to be clear, Italy is not the only nation wrestling with the concern over increasing social and academic problems associated with nomophobia. It has become a global problem. Their proposal included an education component for parents to be able to identify issues, and trainings in schools and universities that included a mindful, more conscientious use of the Internet and social media platforms.
While we love the benefits of technology the dark side of over-attachment leads to lowered—not increased—quality of life. Some examples:
- Voice contact has increasingly given way to texting. Several years ago, a Yale student was texting and walked right into a Shuttle, prompting the university to post “stop texting” signs throughout the campus.
- 12% of motor vehicle accidents are reportedly due to cellphone distraction
- A Rutgers study found that final exam grades were shown to be lower because of divided attention involving devices.
- Nomophobia (fear of being separated from the use of one’s phone) has been observed to lower employee performance and productivity.
- Over-attachment to cellphones can lead to insomnia as well as eventual loneliness.
If you feel that you are negatively affected by constant attachment to your devices, here are some ideas. The goal is to limit, not eliminate technology, so we can maximize the benefits of connectivity that enrich our lives, while refusing to let inanimate devices and virtual worlds take control of them.:
- Shut off or silence your phone during certain time-limited events, such as mealtimes, during worship services, lectures, concerts, etc.). Put the device where it is not easily accessed, so you won’t be tempted. You might want to make this a standing rule for your own kids, grandkids, and guests whom you invite to dinner or to accompany you to an event.
- Go for a walk without using your cellphone; without blocking out the beautiful sounds and sights of nature with earbuds. Notice the birds singing, the leaves rustling, the blazing sunset coloring the sky with shades of amber, pink, and purple.
- When you go out with friends, ask if they agree that to enjoy everyone’s company you will all silence phones, and use only in case of emergency.
- Carve out an hour each day to read, or work on a project you never quite get to because of spending too much time on social media
- Go an entire week without posting a selfie
- Live your life in real time with the people you care about. For example, instead of wishing your spouse, children, or best friends a Happy Birthday online—tell them directly, make them a cake, give them a hug that no virtual post can do.
- Seek professional help if you need it. Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective, and there are even certain prescribed medications used for treating anxiety or specific phobias.
The adage “too much of a good thing” applies here. Technology serves us when it adds, not detracts, from the enjoyment of our life. And that requires a conscious effort to balance our involvement with the virtual world, at the expense of real time living.
© Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2023.
For Further Reading:
TheLocal.IT “Italian Government Unveils Plan to Tackle Smartphone Addiction” https://www.thelocal.it/20190722/italian-government-unveils-plan-to-tackle-smartphone-addiction/
Bhattacharya S, Bashar MA, Srivastava A, Singh A. NOMOPHOBIA: NO MObile PHone PhoBIA. J Family Med Prim Care. 2019 Apr;8(4):1297-1300. doi: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_71_19. PMID: 31143710; PMCID: PMC6510111.
Anshika Arora, Pinaki Chakraborty (2020). Diagnosis, prevalence, and effects of nomophobia – A review. Psychiatry Research.
Bragazzi NL, Re TS, Zerbetto R (2019). The Relationship Between Nomophobia and Maladaptive Coping Styles in a Sample of Italian Young Adults: Insights and Implications From a Cross-Sectional Study. JMIR Ment Health2019;6(4):e13154URL: http://mental.jmir.org/2019/4/e13154/ doi: 10.2196/13154 PMID: 30763254
Giuseppe Marletta1,2, Serena Trani2, Giulia Rotolo3, Maria Carmela Di Monte2, Leopoldo Sarli1, Giovanna Artioli4, Pasquale La Torre1, Giuseppe Pedrazzi1 (2021). Nomophobia in healthcare: an observational study between nurses and students Acta Biomed 2021; Vol. 92, Supplement 2: e2021031 DOI: 10.23750/abm.v92iS2.11505