MOSCOW — One of the defining new features of 21st century life is an attachment to our mobile phones. In Britain, a company AppRiver has actually measured bona fide fear of being without it, with 54% of the UK's residents saying they worry when they are not able to see or hear their phones, and are anxious that they might go dead.
This new psychological phenomenon has been termed nomophobia — formed from no-mobile-phone-phobia. The word first appeared in the English-language press five years ago, but it is becoming ever more relevant as the number of nomophobes grows. There’s nothing surprising about that, given that more and more people are using smartphones that support all the functions of the mobile Internet.
So far, in Russia, there has never been an actual study of the nomophobia phenomenon, but there has been qualitative research that indicates that nomophobia is indeed quite common here.
“All people who are used to being around their mobile phones feel psychological discomfort when it’s gone,” says Boris Gladarev, a scientist at the Center for Independent Sociological Research who is researching Russians’ everyday use of mobile phones. “One of our respondents put it like this: “If I forget my phone at home, I feel phantom pains.”
Mobile phones have almost become a part of our bodies, so much so that without this gadget, modern citizens feel vulnerable and lost. According to psychologists who study nomophobia, the symptoms can include panic attacks, dizziness and a racing heart.
In addition, the fear of separation from mobile phones and other devices can lead to a higher incidence of traffic accidents. The research arm of the AMMI insurance company discovered that young drivers (between 18 and 24 years old) were most likely to have an accident because of being distracted by their smartphone, GPS, radio or music player. Speeding or drunken driving were the second and third most likely causes of accidents.
As a matter of fact, today’s youth, and even older people who rely on technology, use various devices almost around the clock that allow them to be connected or online: smartphones, tablets and laptops. But not everyone is afraid of parting with their gadgets.
“In general, nomophobia affects people who have trouble with everyday interactions,” explains Erik Chen, head of the psychology department at Hong Kong University. “Loneliness and social phobia are easy to overcome in the digital world.”
According to Indian psychologists who study this modern fear, nomophobes are addicted to creating their own security buffer that allows them to feel comfortable. They tend to carry cellphone chargers with them and religiously check to make sure that they have enough money on their phone accounts. Many buy second SIM cards and copy their address books onto them. But that doesn’t always save them if they lose the device.
“Dependence on smartphones, in my opinion, is mostly because of chats and SMS,” says Chen. “In both situations, there is an expectation that the person you are talking to will respond within minutes, but at the same time there is no guarantee of a response at all. That ‘prize,’ in the form of an answer, makes chats and SMS similar to gambling.”
Russians appear to have no objection to a little gambling. They are, after all, devoted users of mobile phones. According to a survey by the Levada Center, 17% of Russians had two mobile phones and 8% had three mobile phones as of last spring. At the same time, the number of people without home phones has been growing. Some 42% of Russians have relinquished their home phones, a 7% increase over three years ago.
“Here, people are starting to buy apartments without ever getting a telephone connection,” says Gladarev. “Although mobile phones are more convenient, landline phones are more reliable. Smartphones can break, the batteries can die. What do you do if you have to call an ambulance or the police or if there is an emergency situation? You need a backup.”
There is certainly no backup plan for the increasing number of nomophobes in Russia. Maybe it’s time to remember that mobile devices aren’t magic rescue devices but just a way to connect with the outside world.