Ever heard of the word nomophobia? It basically means "smart phone separation anxiety." We live in such a connected age that we've grown accustomed to instant communication and access to information. When our cell phone battery dies or we lose our phone, we suddenly feel disconnected. Adrift. Alone! The Huffington Post even reported on this phenomenon.
My experience with nomophobia began a few weeks ago. I just finished exercising and went to hang my towel over the shower door. As I reached, my iPhone slipped out of my shorts' pocket. It made a beautiful swan dive directly into the toilet bowl. Argh! I reached in, pulled it out and stupidly tried to brush the excess water off of it. This caused me to fumble and drop the phone in the toilet again. After several colorful expletives, I fished the phone out.
It's emotionally jarring to witness a cell phone death. First, the screen starts to go haywire. Changing colors, blinking erratically. Until it goes blank completely. You try to switch the phone off. You run to your laptop and research resuscitation options. They're not encouraging. The conventional advice is to place the soaked phone in a bag of rice and let it dry for 48 hours. So I did that. But it didn't work.
I don't have a land line at home. Because of my job as Chief of Police, I need to be available 24/7. Up until "the incident" I always had my cell phone with me. I had grown accustomed to its convenience. Whether waiting to fill a prescription or for a waiter to bring lunch, my iPhone was always there to entertain me. I could check emails, send texts or surf the internet. If I forgot how to spell a word, I could quickly look it up. If I needed to take a photograph or video something, I could do so. Suddenly, with my iPhone's toilet bowl suicide, I was cut off from everything.
According to The Huffington Post article, the University of Iowa actually did a study on nomophobia. The article included the following quote: "iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of 'self' and a negative physiological state," Russell Clayton, a doctoral candidate and the study's lead author, said in a statement.
Apparently the University of Missouri did a study before Iowa State University. They concluded that iPhone separation is linked to psychological anxiety and poor cognitive performance. Which doesn't surprise me, because we grow so dependent on our smart phones.
After my phone died, I drove to work and left word about the incident. Talk about embarrassing. I directed our police dispatch center to call my wife's cell phone in the evenings if they needed to reach me. I reverted to text messages and email on my iPad. I asked my secretary to order me a new iPhone (turns out I was due for an upgrade!)
Here's the fascinating part. After the initial stages of nomophobia, I felt a strange twinge of freedom. Suddenly I was no longer at everyone's beck and call. When painting, reading or watching a program I was not rudely interrupted by that infernal buzzing in my pocket. I also found myself losing the compulsion to constantly check my messages or Facebook feed.
Some of my friends in other occupations are not as closely tied to the office. They can go for a bike ride or watch a movie and leave the smart phone behind. Sort of take a small digital vacation. Maybe fewer and fewer people leave their smart phones behind, because they're so convenient. But it is nice to disengage, however briefly.
The benefits of your iPhone drowning in the toilet are that you get to have a bit of freedom. And you're reminded that the world still turns without a smartphone. In fact, you just might find yourself engaging in more meaningful conversations. You just might be able to slow down for awhile and take in more of what's going on around you.
Before long my new iPhone 6 arrived and I filled it with all the contacts, photos, apps and digital stuff I had backed up. I seamlessly returned to my life of texting, calling and surfing the internet. But now I know, it's possible to turn the noise off. Maybe that's the antidote to nomophobia. To slow down, disengage and reconnect with a simpler rhythm.
Try it sometime. It just might calm your spirit, impart more mindfulness and improve your sense of wellbeing.