As you reach into your pocket, a lump rises in your throat, sweat beads accumulate on your brow, your hand starts to shake. You’re seriously anxious. Yet again, for the eleventh time in the last ten minutes, you realise it’s not there. Rushing out of the house to get to the office, you left it at home. Oh no! What a disaster! It’ll be at least another seven hours before you can get your hands on your mobile phone again.
Think this is an exaggeration? You’re wrong. Over the last couple of years, tech experts and doctors have been claiming that there’s a new kind of addiction in the world: phone addiction. Like all addictions, it’s about dependency and can be destructive, says Dr Rajesh Goyal, consultant psychiatrist, Dr B L Kapur Hospital, Delhi. It is true that mobile phones give you instant gratification, but they also add to stress and make you restless when you don’t hear a beep or a ringtone, or when you forget your phone at home.
Mobile Phone Junkie
Addiction to your phone is increasingly being compared to cigarette addiction. Just as you do with cigarettes, you fiddle with your phone all the time, you take phone-breaks at work, it is the first thing you take out of your pocket the moment you have nothing to do, and you also hear what are called ‘phantom rings’ – you think you hear your phone ring or vibrate even when it doesn’t. And, just like other addictions, when you don’t have your phone with you, you suffer withdrawal symptoms.
"Phone abuse is like substance abuse," says Dr Puneet Dwivedi, consultant psychiatrist, Max Hospital, Gurgaon. "It can interfere with your personal life (affect relationships), your work (affect deadlines and reduce interest and attention on work at hand) and even pose a threat to life (phones are often the cause of road accidents)." Adds Dr Goyal, "I regularly see people who suffer from sleep disturbances because of the phone. They text, play games and even surf the Internet till the wee hours of the morning."
The mobile phone is being called the third most addictive substance in modern life. Also, like any addictive substance, the use of the phone gives its users a sense of reassurance – emotionally and work-wise. None of this should come as a surprise to us – and especially Blackberry users. There’s over-reliance on phones these days, not just for communication but also for storing and accessing phone numbers, addresses, appointments, birthdays, directions, and many other things that are now enabled by mobile applications.
“My husband often gets up in the middle of the night to check his Blackberry,” says Rishika Anand, who’s married to a jet-setting consultant. “It’s like he can’t let the phone go.” People feel cut off from others and fear lagging behind at the office. “I get patients who have a high degree of stress because of excessive phone use – mostly to keep up with office work – but who are unable to wean themselves off,” says Dr Dwivedi.
Like all substances that are abused, mobile phones cause stress. Addicted users are often restless and easily irritated; they lack focus in almost anything. In the UK, according to the The Telegraph, at least two cases of phone addiction have been reported: young people who are obsessed with their phones and who become depressed when the number of incoming calls or messages drops. Some people, like journalist Akshay Tewari, are aware of the risk, and take steps to avoid an addiction. “When I go on holiday, I switch off my phone for a week just to make sure I do not get dependent on it,” he says. “The first two days are tough. I keep going to the phone every five minutes to check for calls and messages. I feel anxious and restless.”
The irony of mobile phone use is that it promises better connectivity and encapsulates the world to just a phone call. But it also alienates people in their immediate social surroundings. Excessive phone use can hurt your social life. Haven’t we all, at one point or the other, been guilty or been witness to the following: Sitting in a restaurant with family but talking on the phone through most of the meal? Ignoring the spouse in the car and chatting with a friend over the phone? At a nightclub or bar with friends, but constantly texting someone else? With half their minds on their cell phones, say experts, people are beginning to suffer from attention deficit disorders, and have an inability to listen or comprehend their immediate surroundings or tasks. And that seriously affects social interactions.
It got so bad in one case, that marketing executive Mahima Gulati was simply dropped by her circle of friends because even when she was physically with them, she was always on the phone. “We all have high pressure jobs, but when we go out with friends, we make it a point to have fun, catch up and keep phone interactions to the bare minimum,” says Mahima’s former friend Rajesh Ghosh. “But Mahima refused to do that. So eventually, we stopped asking her to join us. It’s a bit disconcerting having a ghost in the group.”
Experts warn that when the phone becomes more important than the people in your life, you’re in trouble. “When you start ignoring your friends and family even if your phone use is just work-related, and you hear them complain about it often, it’s time to do something about it,” says Dr Dwivedi. Jim Williams, an industrial sociologist based in Massachusetts, was quoted on MSN.com as saying that cell phone addiction is widening the gulf of personal isolation. “Just as more information has led to less wisdom, more acquaintances via the Internet and cell phones have produced fewer friends,” he said.
We have every reason to worry: India is one of the two fastest growing cell phone markets in the world.
The phantom limb syndrome
The phantom limb syndrome is suffered by many amputees, who feel strange and often painful sensations coming from their missing limbs. Recent experiments have shown how we can identify other people’s limbs and even inanimate objects as being part of our body. For the most part this only happens in specialised situations, but there are some tools that we use so often that we could consider them to be parts of ourselves – such as mobile phones. With our reliance on mobile phones increasing to the point where they’re the first thing we look at in the morning and the last thing at night, would we feel their absence as painfully as a limb’s, creating a ‘phantom mobile’? And what does this mean for how we think, work, and live in the future?
You are addicted to your phone when...
Your cell phone use has increased significantly
You feel uncomfortable when you’re not using it
Your need to talk on the phone is insatiable, sometimes adversely affecting your real relationships
Your cell phone bill is causing financial distress
You are unable to finish work at the office because of excessive phone use
You are endangering your health because of its use at inappropriate times (driving, or late at night when you should be sleeping)
- From HT Brunch, May 15
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