Nomophobia no laughing matter

Hi, my name is Doug, and I’m a nomophobe.

No, that doesn’t mean I’m afraid of garden gnomes, although the Travelocity Roaming Gnome kind of creeps me out. Nomophobia (no-mobile-phone-phobia) is actually the name given to the anxious feeling some people feel when they are without their smartphones.

I first heard about nomophobia while watching the “Today” show one morning before work. I caught just a portion of the report because, well, I was checking my Facebook feed. So I went to the show’s website and printed an article I found there on nomophobia, also known as smartphone separation anxiety.

It seems two researchers at Iowa State University decided to study this condition because, well, they have to study something. Since lab rats are not issued smartphones at Iowa State, the researchers were forced to interview actual undergraduates about how they felt when separated from their smartphones.

They identified the following four characteristics of nomophobia: 1. People feel insecure when they can’t text or call their friends or family. 2. They feel disconnected from their online identity. 3. They feel inadequate because they can’t Google answers to questions. 4. They feel annoyed that they can’t accomplish simple tasks, such as making dinner reservations, as easily.

When I read this article, the first thought that entered my brain was “poor babies!” The second thought was “I can write a column about these pathetic people who can’t be without their beloved smartphones for five minutes without having an existential crisis. Boy that will be great!”

It’s easy to make fun of nomophobes, until you discover that you, too, suffer from this terrible condition.

One morning last week I was attempting to add something to the “to do” list I keep on my smartphone. Suddenly the phone locked up. A few seconds later the screen went black. I panicked. In fact, I discovered what I believe to be a fifth characteristic of smartphone separation anxiety — fear of missing an important phone call.

Unlike many people, I actually use my smartphone to make and receive telephone calls. It just so happens that when my phone went black, I was waiting on a return call from my doctor’s office. I knew that if I missed the call, I would have a difficult time making contact again.

So I started pushing all the buttons on my phone. When that didn’t work, I started holding down the on-off button. I broke out in a cold sweat. I was sure my poor phone had received its last call. Then it began to ring.

I frantically swiped at the black screen, trying to answer the call I just knew was from my doctor, but the ringing continued. Then I heard the “ding” indicating a missed call. I continued to press buttons. I removed the phone from its case and shook it. I slapped it against my thigh, all to no avail.

Just when I started to calm down, the phone rang a second time. Again I swiped helplessly at the black screen until I once more heard the missed call “ding.”

Luckily, I still had my tablet, so I avoided sinking into complete nomophobic shock. At lunchtime I drove as fast as I could to my cell provider’s outlet store, where a very nice lady pushed two buttons at the same time, bringing my phone back from the half-dead in no time at all.

As I left the store, knowing I was once again on the grid, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I also felt a bit ashamed of my dependence on a device that, though I managed to live quite well without it for half a century, seems to have become my master.