Are you nomophobic?

June 24, 2012

According to a recent Mobile Mindset study by Lookout, it’s likely you are.

Nomophobia (noun): Fear of being out of mobile phone contact.

Let it go, young jedi. Let it go…

Yes, we’ve become a nation of mobile addicts. A truth indicative of the times after an unfathomable recent surge in mobile adoption and usage – something I myself didn’t fully appreciate until my mother recently (and proudly) proclaimed she was ready for a smart phone. That, my friends, is a milestone.

But this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to many of us, as one of the most obvious indicators of the changing tides has been our increasing reliance and attachment to our portable devices. Our trusty side-kicks, our partners in the Smartphone Revolution, as they say. This same study found 3 out of 5 Americans don’t go more than an hour without checking their phones. A single hour… shame on us.

And with this attachment, comes fear. A new type of fear and anxiety, wholly man-made, wholly new to our species. One that didn’t exist before and one that we increasingly feel the weight of. Some go so far to claim that nomophobia is now the most common fear on the planet (thank you, England).

Through mobile, we have reached an unprecedented level of connectivity with the world around us. It’s people, it’s places, it’s things, and all of the information in it. Sometimes, for the better (navigating, emergencies, changing plans, getting time-sensitive answers, in-context discovery, general accessibility). Sometimes, for the worse (distractions, general over-dependence, information overload, constant contact). So should we celebrate our technological triumph of creating so much more than the portable ears (a term coin by Jaron Lanier) cell-phones were once designed to become? Or mourn our hyper-connected state, remaining terrified of what the future will bring and what we’ll sacrifice to get there. It’s a complicated question, one on the periphery of philosophy and ethics as much as technology, and the answer isn’t so clear.

But at least we can acknowledge where we are today. We can accept that mobile isn’t going away. We can embrace this new era and continue to design the brightest future we can fathom, making the most of this new high-powered medium and steering it forward on a path that’s pure and true.

And in the meantime, fight the nomophobia. Face the fear, and combat it head on. Start by giving yourself a phone-free weekend once or twice a year – a refreshing blast into the past. A reminder that you can live free from connection, that you are strong enough to resist mobiles powerful pull, that you can unplug – if only temporarily. Tell your friends and family to do the same. One by one we can fight this, but only together can we defeat it. Or so we can hope.

For much more on the mobile movement and the design-related implications of our increasingly-connected world, check out LukeW‘s latest short-but-insightful book, Mobile First. A fine read, chalk-full of tactical advice for UX practitioners and philosophical advice for product owners and managers, all while grounded in some staggering statistics speaking to the mobile boom.


Ring ring, the Phone Call is Ill

August 27, 2011

“Are you sitting down? Okay good.”

Remember the days before phones were so damn portable? Remember the phone call? The real ones, the long ones. All those hours spent sitting, receiver to the face, talking away our demons into the curved plastic, twirling the chord with the left hand. We now live in a world where we’re attached to those little boxes called cells, where every incoming text, email, vibration, or chirp of a ring further muddles the memories of our unplugged past.

Check out this thoughtful and succinct take on The Death of the Phone Call from Wired’s Clive Thompson. He pays respect to the fading behavior while making a good case for a redesign of the phone call itself. He asserts the ‘constant lightweight contact’ we’re all engulfed by is contributing to the Phone Call’s death, which are emotionally more high-bandwidth. You may have noticed.

But does the phone call really deserve to die, as Mr. Thompson claims? It may be ill. Very ill. But there’s still time for it to be turned around. There’s part of me — part of most of us I’m sure — that still loves the call. That moment of excitement upon hearing the ring — not knowing who or what the other end will bring. The Phone Call still has its moments, given the right time, the right place, the right voice on the other line. But if it does go, R.I.P. phone call. You’ve had a glorious run.

(Note: The Wired article is over a year old. But sometimes magazines fall behind the couch. Sometimes they are discovered and read some 15 months later. And sometimes, even in the rapidly-changing world of consumer technology, articles age well. It happens.)

Mobile Phones and the Self

November 9, 2010

These machines, what a part of us they’ve become!  And whether we like it or not, what gadgets we carry around reflect something about us to the outside world. Similar to how our clothing and grooming do. How the type of music we listen to does. How the type of house-pets we keep do (I keep none, it’s against my building code). Not to say that the viewpoints expressed in this comic are entirely accurate… but hey, decide for yourself.

IPhone vs Android vs Blackberry

"How smartphone users see 2G phone users..."

Experiments in a 6th Sense

March 18, 2009

Imagine this. You start off a weekend day shopping. Then you catch a baseball game. For dinner you meet some old friends, and top it all off with an evening at the opera. All day every question you have is answered, every hunch confirmed, you’re never lost nor confused nor out of the loop. It’s like you’ve acquired a new sense, one you could only describe as… omniscience?

Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong. 

A new way of interacting with the world.

A new way of interacting with the world?

The early stages of such a concept is one being explored by Patie Maes at her MIT labs and was recently unveiled at the TED conference. From a device that hangs from your neck and is controlled by hand gestures, the technology would allow users to interact seamlessly with the environment, delivering relevant, time-sensitive, and personalized information, without the need for mobile or computer screen interfaces. This glimpse into the possible future of mobile devices is sure to dazzle gadget lovers and terrify technophobes.

And while still an idea-in-progress, the potential for future widespread adoption of a technology like this continues to challenge the issues of privacy, abuse of technology, and high cost of convenience. Look no further then the lively comments section below the video to see the passionately mixed responses the device has generated thus far. 

Make sure not the last line of the presentation right before she walks off stage… key for dramatic effect.

Hanging out: Just me and my cell

August 29, 2008

My best buddy cell phone

She must be doing something important.

There are over 2.5 billion cell phone users in the world, making mobile devices the most widely spread modern technology. My absolute favorite subplot of this whole cell phone revolution is what’s happening to the concept of “being alone” in public settings. 

Whether walking down a dark street at night, waiting at a restaurant for a date to show up, or in a business meeting, playing with our phones has become more than a socially acceptable way to pass the time.  It often makes us feel like we’re not alone, but at peace, safe and connected to our a social circle, unconsciouly telling those around us: I have friends, hundreds of them, they just aren’t right here (think of those mildly creative Verizon commercials).  Because of this, for many playing with our phones has become more of a comfort than a compulsion, whether texting, Googling, sifting through contacts, or – my personal favorite – randomly pressing buttons to look busy (it’s okay, we’ve all been there!). 

Take a close look next time you’re out in public at the way others around you are interacting with their phones, when they would otherwise be alone.  Chances are they aren’t exhibiting typical lonely behavior, but rather laughing, smiling, scowling, or otherwise emotionally vested in their miniature digital best friends.  It can be quite fun to witness. 

While this is just one of the many ways mainstream technology has changed social dynamics, it’s without a doubt my favorite.