Under the Hood

Understanding Nomophobia: The Fear Of Not Having A Working Smartphone

Smartphones have become a part of our everyday lives ever since they were made. They not only let you contact loved ones anytime and anywhere, but also allow you to set meetings, events and other activities without the need to meet others, in addition to storing photos, videos, contacts and other types of information. It is with these in mind that a growing and persistent digital age phobia has to be understood, with a new study examining growing research around nomophobia, the fear of not having a working smartphone.

Nomophobia, or NOMO, is defined as an extreme fear or anxiety of not having a mobile device or not having access to a mobile device when it’s needed. It is a type of separation anxiety that is experienced as a result of not using a smartphone whether as a result of losing it, a dead battery or an inaccessible phone network. Nomophobia is also more broadly described as the fear of feeling disconnected from the digital world, unable to check on social media and news websites.

The term has actually been in used for more than a decade. According to a 2019 research paper, it comes from "No Mobile Phone Phobia," and was coined by the United Kingdom Post Office during a 2008 study on anxiety. The same study found that people become worried when their phones are either lost, ran out of batteries or had no network coverage, and that 58 percent of men and 47 percent of women suffered from nomophobia. The study also said that people have high anxiety rates of being without their phone that are comparable to those of “wedding day jitters,” with the most common reason being their fear of being disconnected with loved ones, underlying the increasing dependence that people have on their smartphones.

In part, nomophobia is rooted in the reality that the phone is an extremely useful and highly effective source of immediate access to communication and information, with professional and personal obligations that require one to be available by phone everyday for work or for family. The problem is that there are no limits on how to use the phone, along with internal and external pressures to both connect and communicate through it, which leads to increased anxiety especially with no phone/s in hand.

Nomophobia is exacerbated by pressures as a result of expecting others to either be available on the phone, email constantly or post regularly on social media. Expecting to be digitally connected all the time and the fact that smartphone apps are designed to be highly addictive for increased user engagement drive an emotional and psychological dependence on the phone.

In order to realize that not all is lost when your phone's battery goes down to zero, it is important to take at least a few minutes away from your phone, allowing you to meditate, talk to family or friends face-to-face and do other activities that do not involve smartphones and other digital devices. It is also best to limit your expectations (and those of others) on your availability online.

Smartphone Woman checks her smartphone. Pixabay