Imagine being prohibited from touching a mobile phone for an afternoon, or perhaps an entire day. For millions of people, any duration of more than two hours without smartphone access would feel like an endurance test. After all, people have come to rely on mobile access for directions, shopping lists, and random information; not to mention entertainment, texts, and conversations with friends, relatives, and work contacts.
Without a smartphone in hand, a person weaned on the technology might forget to buy carrots or toothpaste at the supermarket; get lost on the way to a party or job interview; or have no ability to contact AAA when a tire blows out on the freeway. This sample critical analysis essay explores the mental illness and how smartphone separation anxiety affects Americans.
The Emotional effects of nomophobia
Now that smartphones are crucial to the daily lives of successful people throughout most of the world, the anxiety that one might associate with mobile deprivation has been given a name: “nomophobia”. The name is a portmanteau of the phrase “no mobile phobia.” In the United States, where 64 percent of the adult population now own smartphones (Smith), the anxiety is far more common than most people would imagine. Though it might seem like something from a bad SNL skit, a lot of people have experienced the trauma; whether it’s a feeling of being stranded, broke, or disarmed when they’ve accidentally left their smartphones at home; or a sense of loss mixed with panic when a phone cannot be found in the last place it was remembered to have been.
In an effort to identify the emotional effects of smartphone separation anxiety, doctoral student Calgar Yildirim of Iowa State Uni.’s Human Computer Interaction department teamed with ISU School of Education professor Ana-Paula Correia on a study into this phenomenon (Packham). Conducting interviews with nine undergrads, the researchers identified four common symptoms linked to nomophobia:
- Inability to communicate – People have a sense of feeling stranded when denied the ability to contact friends or loved ones.
- Connection deprivation – Mobile internet users feel cut off from the world when they’re unable to access their social media accounts.
- Inability to access info – People who’ve grown accustomed to Googling info on any given topic—news, facts, directions—feel stripped of their intellectual arsenal when forced to cope without a smartphone.
- Inconvenience – When mobile access is unavailable, users feel robbed of their ability to carry out mundane tasks, such as booking reservations or sending out invitations.
The researchers also discovered a slight gender variant in the study, which showed that women are 3.6 times likelier than men to exhibit nomophobic symptoms (Davies).
Affects women more than men
Regarding the gender disparity, Yildirim suggested that there could:
“be some underlying psychological mechanisms that play a role in females’ proclivity to nomophobia,” but also stressed that there’s a lot more to study in that area (Tumbokon).
Furthermore, the researchers stressed that the common symptoms of nomophobia are not necessarily unhealthy and outward expressions of smartphone separation anxiety shouldn’t be mocked or teased by observers. However, if a person’s smartphone dependency can become as addictive as drugs and alcohol, a state of separation could jeopardize his or her emotional well-being.
The second part of the study consisted of 20 statements that respondents were asked to rate on a scale of one to seven; with the lowest number meaning strongly disagree and the highest number meaning strongly agree. The 20 statements dealt with smartphone separation anxiety in various settings, such as how a respondent might react if deprived of mobile access in a remote location, and how frustrated he or she would feel if left unable to look up info or contact friends. The higher the sum total from all 20 answers; the more intense the nomophobia.
Smartphone Separation and Cognition
In another study conducted by doctoral candidate Russell Clayton at the University of Missouri, during cognitive behavior therapy research, it was found that participants showed decreased cognitive abilities and higher stress levels when separated from their iPhones. The 40 participants were hooked up to heart rate monitors and asked to complete a word puzzle. Half of them did one word search with their iPhones, and then another search later, but were told to shut off their phones the second time around due to Bluetooth interference. The other participants did the same search, but only allowed to use their iPhones during the second search. Measurements of the participant’s heart rates showed that the searches done without iPhone access caused higher levels of anxiety. Consequently, the participants performed poorly at the word puzzle when nomophobia took hold (Schupak).
According to Clayton, the study showed more than just the ill-effects of nomophobia on task performance; the study also indicated that iPhones are:
“becoming an extension of ourselves,” to the point that “when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state,” (DeRenzo).
In other words, diminished selfhood could be added to the list of consequences—which also includes mobile addiction; eye strain; and arm, back, and shoulder soreness—that stem from regular smartphone use.
U.S. Smartphone usage rates in 2015
Data compiled by Pew Research Center indicates that roughly two-thirds of Americans now own smartphones and that 19 percent of users largely rely on mobile technology to stay abreast of news and information. As much as seven percent of U.S. smartphone users don’t even have traditional forms of online access—PCs, laptops, broadband—either due to low-income or lack of conventional computer skills (Smith).
Pew data also indicates that the following segments of the American public are more likely to primarily rely on, or perhaps solely, smartphones for online access:
- Young people – Smartphones are the primary online go-to device among 15 percent of users in the 18–29 age bracket.
- Low-income households – Roughly 13 percent of Americans from households that earn less than $30,000 annually are likelier to rely on smartphones; whereas only one percent of Americans from $75,000 and above households make comparative use of mobile technology.
- People of color – Smartphones are used regularly by 13 percent of Latinos and 12 percent of African-Americans, but only by four percent of whites.
For the most part, people in these high usage categories tend to lack other forms of online access. Additionally, these people are likelier to live with relatives instead of alone or with companions. Consequently, these people are not as likely to have health coverage or bank accounts (Smith).
Services people access with smartphones
Far from being just a device for calls, texts, and rudimental Internet access, smartphones have come to facilitate a range of functions that are vital to the lives of many people. Today, smartphones are being used for everything from online banking to job seeking at the following rates:
- 62 percent of people who own smartphones have used the devices to access health information.
- 57 percent have used their smartphones for the purpose of online banking.
- 44 percent have browsed real estate listings and rental info.
- 43 percent have searched employee wanted ads and inquired about job openings.
- 40 percent have looked up info about government programs.
- 30 percent have taken online courses over a smartphone.
- 18 percent have submitted employment resumes and applications over their phone.
People from low-income households are twice as likely to search for job openings over a smartphone or learn how to write a resume, and four times likelier to use such devices to submit an application to a prospective employer (Smith). Considering how mobile devices serve as the only avenue to financial opportunity for many users, anxiety over phone loss is understandable.
Media consumption via smartphones
Most smartphone owners use their devices to access information about local events, share photos and videos on social media, and stay abreast of major news stories. Media consumption and interaction occurs at the following rates:
- 68 percent of people get their news through mobile devices on occasion; 33 percent do so regularly.
- 67 percent share videos, photos, and personal updates on social media via smartphones.
- 56 percent get word of local events via smartphones on occasion; 18 percent do so regularly.
The use of smartphones for news and media are equally common among all ages. Even older users get significant amounts of news via mobile devices, including four out of every 10 owners above age 65 (Smith).
How to self-identify nomophobia
Given all the important life functions that people now perform on mobile devices, it’s no surprise that phone loss is typically a traumatic occurrence for any given owner. At the website for smartphone software maker XNSPY, writer Jenny Kido has identified five basic symptoms that show whether a person has developed nomophobia:
- Constantly reaches for a smartphone, even if just to unlock and lock it.
- Diminished mental capacity when deprived of a smartphone.
- Sudden dread when a phone is misplaced.
- Insomnia caused by the inability to put down a smartphone.
- Chronic distraction from studies or work due to the smartphone.
- Lack of social interaction due to technology usage.
The writer concluded that the above characteristics were common among most of her friends; going on to effectively say that smartphones have become an addition to the human body for many people. While acknowledging that mobile phone dependency is becoming a fact of life throughout much of society, she stressed that it is a cause for concern when an individual is unable to emotionally cope or function in the absence of a smartphone (Kido).
Smith, Aaron. “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015.” PewInternet.org. Pew Research Center. 1 April 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
Packham, Amy. “Nomophobia: The Four Stages Of Smartphone Separation Anxiety.”The Huffington Post UK. AOL. 15 May 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
Davies, Madlen. “Are YOU addicted to your smartphone?.” Daily Mail. DMG Media. 18 May 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
Tumbokon, Karen. “Woman cries uncontrollably after her phone dies on the subway.” Digital Trends. Ian Bell. 13 July 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
Schupak, Amanda. “iPhone separation anxiety: Heart beats faster, mind works slower.” CBS News. CBS Broadcasting Inc. 9 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
DeRenzo, Nicholas. “iPhone, Therefore iAm.” United Hemispheres. Ink Global. n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
Kido, Jenny. “Nomophobia – the Smartphone Separation Anxiety Disorder You Need to Know About.” XNSPY. 21 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
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