Nomophobia: the portend of things to come – Aditi Ganguly.

Social media and emerging trends in Psychology

aditi-gangulyThe machines have risen. We live in a world that is increasingly connected, device driven and digitally convenient. And, if I am not wrong, more Indians have mobile phones than access to a toilet. Now, this awe inspiring mobile penetration is not a bad thing, considering how easy so many aspects of our lives have become, changing for the better. We connect with long lost members of the family and friends irrespective of where they are in the world, pay our bills and receive our remittance using the net, seek out our entertainment digitally, not to mention call for help (or a cab) when we are stranded. But then again, when was the last time you dialed a number from memory? Or for that matter, can you recall the current balance in your bank account without peeping into your phone? No?

Okay, we see that you have liked all the pictures your “bestest” friend from school has posted in Facebook (including among others, the so obviously over fried samosas she had from the roadside joint in some Godforsaken town), but when did you meet her last? You keep yourselves abreast of each other’s diet plans and secret liaisons virtually, but do you even want to meet her? Spend some time? Share life stories? Discuss future plans? Not Really. No way. Not with that creepy, crawly thing, always eager to turn the arch lights on to what she thinks is God’s answer to mankind.

Exactly! And that is why experts are extremely concerned that, as we are becoming more and more connected, we are losing important aspects of what is called the human experience. We are becoming increasingly impulsive, impatient, forgetful and even narcissistic. “When your life becomes virtual”, good old Sigmund seems to be telling us from wherever he is, “the price that you pay is always cognitive”. The immediacy of the internet, the efficiency of the smart phone and the anonymity of the chat room may be pandering to your needs for instant gratification and conspicuous consumption, but what it is extracting in return is terminally insidious. Forget about technology detracting you from interpersonal relationships and social norms, that is so 20th century. What is happening now is much more scaring. It is changing the very core of who you are.

Even as you read this, I can see you fiddle with your smart phone, feel the reassuring touch, for even as you remain in the denial mode, it has usurped a central part in your life, slowly sucking you into a void – a dark abyss to nowhere. Yeah, I also happen to know that you are so totally attached to your phone that you sleep with it and accompany it to the loo. No sweat, that’s pretty mainstream, as in natural.  As a matter of fact, one study has already called this “unholy” dependence on smart phones “possibly the biggest non-drug addiction of the 21st century”. Now you know why, after posting every selfie, you continue to check your mobile as one possessed, just to see who all have “liked”, if any? But, have you ever considered a life without your phone? Going cold-turkey? Now, that is scary. But the good news is that you are not alone.

And hang on. They have even coined a term for it all – “nomophobia” (the no mobile phobia, if you may). The Psychology Today describes it as “that rush of anxiety and fear when you realize you are disconnected and out of the loop with friends, family, work and the world.” The ailments that are being directly attributed to the over-use (one commentator has even called it the “obscene dependence”) on mobile devices are already (and this is contrary to widely held, popular, public belief) well researched and well documented, almost irrefutable.  These include, among others, low self-esteem, impulsiveness, sensation-seeking and highly extroverted or introverted personality. Technology dependence can also heighten the symptoms of pre-existing disorders such as social phobia, social anxiety disorder or panic disorder. One study reported that the stress levels associated with nomophobia are equivalent to those of “wedding day jitters” and trips to the dentist. The anxiety and other feelings caused by tech dependence are also chillingly real. Oh, by the way, studies have established that women are more prone to all this that I am referring to, than men.

Okay, enough of scaring. While it is true that extreme cases of digital dependence will need professional help, we can all do little things to reduce the influence on our lives and eventually emerge triumphant.

  • Begin by stopping yourself from taking your phone to the bathroom.
  • Stop referring to your phone as a person. It is an object, an inanimate one at that and does not need to either have a name or that Barbie Pink cover to match your lipstick. It is a device, a damn helpful one at that, but NOT an extension of your self as you have made yourself to believe.
  • Don’t text or talk while driving. It is not only advice able from a safety point of view, but will also significantly reduce your screen time.
  • Use cash. This obviates the need for either credit cards or e-wallets. And as every transaction takes time, you will force your eyes away from the screens for at least, just that long.
  • No, you don’t have to sleep next to the wall just because you have to plug your phone for charging. And you don’t have to access it the first thing in the morning to “re-connect with the world” as you put it, either.
  • When you are with your near and dear ones, turn that damn thing off. The constant message alerts and the obnoxious ring tone that is “so-you” is irritating to everyone else and so are you, glued as you are to it, oblivious to the world around. Switch off the tinsel, connect with real life, for a change – even you will notice the difference.
  • Try writing – a note, a letter, a few random lines – the old fashioned way, to communicate, instead of the ubiquitous sms.
  • Motivate yourself to leave the phone when you go out the next time. It can be a dash to the neighborhood store for a few minutes to a whole day of mall hopping. Enjoy the Nirvana of the un-connected.

PS : They also have a term for it – Digital Detox!

(Aditi Ganguly is a practicing counsellor. Her specialisation is in the fields of child and adolescent psychology)

The piece was originally written for the Express Health Guide 2016