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Kirby: Nomophobia not fear of being without a Mormon

Published May 7, 2013 8:59 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

How long could you go without your cellphone? Assuming that you didn't need it for work or as part of court-ordered electronic monitoring, how long could you stand to be without mobile service?

If you immediately thought in terms of minutes or even a few hours, there's a good chance you have a serious emotional problem.

There's even a name for your derangement. "Nomophobia" is the fear of being without a mobile phone. It comes from "no mobile phone" phobia.

Note: I confess that I first thought no-mo-phobia meant a fear of being without a Mormon. But this is Utah. How could anyone suffer from that here?

What most of us do fear is being demobilized. Two-thirds of Americans reportedly suffer from this fear of social disconnection. For most it's merely nail-chewing anxiety.

Others are so afflicted with nomophobia that they become incontinent if their cellphone battery-life indicator drops below 10 percent.

OK, I made up the part about wetting yourself over a poorly charged phone. But there are real ways of telling if you're a nomophobiac.

First is that you never turn your cellphone off. If you are unable to take a break from your phone longer than an afternoon, then you have a problem.

Second is constantly checking your phone to see if you missed any calls or texts in the past five minutes. The average cellphone owner checks his or her phone more than 30 times a day even when it isn't ringing or vibrating.

Third is obsessively topping up your battery life. A nomophobiac cannot stand to be uncharged, never mind unplugged.

Finally, you take the phone with you into the bathroom. If you don't like the idea of taking a moment for some really personal business without taking everyone you know along with you, you need to be in rehab.

This psycho-abnormality didn't exist until a few years ago when people started taking their social networks with them. Suddenly, we got lost and lonely without our phones.

There was a time when people went for days without a phone and suffered no ill effects other than the vague thought, "Wow, it was nice that nobody bothered me."

If you got a phone message, someone had to write it down and leave it for you. There was the understanding that you might not get it. Nobody got too upset if you didn't call them back immediately.

Not today. Without our phones, half of us would probably die of separation anxiety. But first we'd chew a hole in the sofa like a Labrador retriever left inside all day.

Last week, I noticed that nomophobia was creeping into my life. When I couldn't find my cellphone, I tore my office and the house apart looking for it.

About the time I was really starting to stress, I thought, "Wait a minute. What do I care if someone can't reach me?"

It was a good question. Whenever people did call me, it was because they wanted me to do something. And because they were able to get a hold of me, I felt obligated to do it.

I gave up looking for my phone. I found it in my sock drawer later that afternoon. There were eight messages, all which turned out to be stuff that could wait.

Technology may be making things easier and quicker but it doesn't seem to be making us smarter or tougher. We better hope the power never goes out.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.