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.

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