You’re eating lunch with a colleague. As you discuss a case your firm is trying, the person across the table taps their smartphone just long enough for the screen to light up. The phone isn’t ringing or vibrating, but they check it anyway. They make eye contact with you, only to look away a few minutes later to check their phone again.
Most of us have been on both the giving and receiving end of this situation. We constantly check our phones, looking for text message notifications or emails. We all know that phantom buzzing feeling we think is our phone and we sometimes think we hear our alert tone, only to see there is nothing new to read.
Legal professionals may be more guilty of this than most. We have constant deadlines, clients trying to reach us, bosses sending texts, and family members asking when we will be home. We need to stay connected — always. While we think this means we are just committed to our work, it can be more than just an annoying (and often rude) quirk. Obsession with constant communication and fear of being out of touch is now categorized as a phobia, one from which more than 66% of mobile phone users suffer. With the United States’ cellphone usage at about 327,577,529, that means statistically 216,201,169 people suffer from what is called “nomophobia,” an abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone phobia.”
Nomophobia is the fear of being without mobile phone contact. A 2012 British study, sponsored by SecurEnvoy, found mobile phone users tend to be anxious when they “lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage.” It is categorized as a specific phobia, on par with a fear of flying. The study found about 58% of men and 48% of women experience symptoms of nomophobia. These numbers jump by 9% for both men and women when their mobile phones are off.
Signs of this communication obsession include:
- Keeping your phone constantly within reach during both sleeping and waking hours
- Checking your phone in the middle of the night
- Taking your phone with you everywhere you go, including inappropriate places like the restroom
- Obsessively checking battery life
- Checking your phone every few minutes, even when interacting with other people
- Feeling anxious when separated from your mobile device
- Constantly checking your pocket or purse to ensure your phone is there
While you may think these signs describe everyone you know, is that really a good thing? The study cites a variety of reasons that people become so attached to their phones. For some, the connection offers security. It makes them feel safer knowing they can call for help if they need it. For others, compulsively checking their phone relieves anxiety that they are missing something and reassures them that there is nothing they need to respond to.
I myself am guilty of most of the described symptoms. If my phone is dying, it is time to head home. (Sorry, guys, I know we’re hanging out, but I gotta charge up in case one of you tries to text me.) My phone died the night of the presidential election. I was unable to text friends and family as election results crawled in. I couldn’t check political trends on Twitter! I had no email access. I went from panic to depression to acceptance before realizing this behavior was probably unhealthy.
If any of this behavior sounds familiar, you should try to control it now. Don’t take your phone to the dinner table. Set a time every evening to put your phone aside and don’t check it again until the morning. Choose one day a week (weekends will probably work best) to turn your phone off, even for just a few hours. Spend that time with your family, grab a beer with a friend, go for a jog.
This obsession with our phones not only increases stress and anxiety, it distracts us from experiencing life in the moment. When you’re in a meeting, sharing a meal with someone, or just trying to relax, get your face out of your phone.
What are your strategies for battling nomophbia? Tell us in the comments!