Nomophobia: Nomo what

The fear of being out of mobile phone contact. What? Yep, this term, an abbreviation of "no mobile phone phobia", was coined in 2008 in Briton during a study about those who got antsy when deprived of their cellphone. Anxiety? Cold-sweats? Impatiently pacing up and down? Seems like somebody going through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol but in our modern day world of 24 by 7 communications, it would seem we sometimes have an overwhelming need to be plugged in and if we're not, we feel cut off, out of the loop, castaway on a desert island.

Why this sudden interest? In Canada, Rogers Communications released a survey on December 27, 2012 of 1,040 Canadians who own a smartphone or tablet. 5% of the respondents claim to have their device in bed with them; 46% have it on the nightstand beside their bed; and another 13% have in the same room. Wait. Back up. In bed with them? Ha ha. I'm sorry; that's pretty funny. Of course I have heard of people keeping their device under their pillow.

13% say they "would be lost without it" and 8% "would not want to live without it." 33% check their mobile before brushing their teeth in the morning while 26% "would feel naked without [their] smartphone and Internet access." Ah, wow. Do we have an overwhelming need or what? Heck, do we have an addiction?

13% say they use their smartphone in the bath room "all the time"; 17% say "often"; and 28% say "occasionally". I'm sorry, did I just hear a toilet flush?

What about television?
According to Nielson, the average American watches nearly five hours of video each day. While that video traditionally has been television, the company notes that consumers are moving to other technologies to watch content like computers, gaming consoles, and mobile devices. In other words, the five hours remains constant just the amount of time watching a television is shifting.

Are we addicted?
I'm sure that you, like me, have heard we are all going to hell in a handcart; the sky is falling doom and gloom. But what is really going on? What's the truth? I decided to check this out by looking at my own week. The hours are approximate and I'm sure your particular day and week will vary from mine.

total number of hours: 24 hours x 7 days = 168 hours

total sleep: 8 hours x 7 days = 56 hours (8 hours? Ha ha, like that's going to happen!)

total hours awake: 16 hours per day; 112 hours per week

Work (including travel and lunch): 10 hours x 5 days = 50 hours

Remaining free time: 62 hours per week. On a work day, I have 7 free hours while on the weekend with no work, I have 16 free hours. (6 * 5 + 16 * 2 = 62)

I exercise anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour per day. On the weekend I might do more so how about for the sake of simplicity I go with an average of 1 hour per day for 7 hours per week. Even if this isn't an accurate reflection of reality, it will make me feel noble and give me bragging rights for the duration of this article. So that leaves me with: 5 * 5 + 15 * 2 = 55 free hours per week. What do I do with 55 hours of free time?

How about meals? Here's an estimate: breakfast = 30 minutes time 7 days = 3.5 hours; lunch = 30 minutes times two days = 1 hour (workdays included above); and dinner = 1 hour times days = 7 hours. This gives a total of 11.5 hours per week. That brings me down to 44.5 hours of free time per week.

Other miscellaneous things I do: go to the movies (good for 3 or 4 hours with travel time); grocery shopping (couple of hours a week including travel time: I always buy fresh and frequently); other shopping possibly.

Oddly enough, I don't own a television. I do watch some television over the Internet but this is more than likely nothing more than the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, 2 half hour shows televised four days a week for a total of four hours per week.

However, as I mention above, the ratings company Nielson reports that the average American is watching nearly 5 hours per day of television. From my calculations, that would be over 50% of my free time. In reality, I watch 4 specific hours of TV but admittedly would add the occasional one hour drama and YouTube videos (I'm on a West Wing kick right now). In total? I suppose fifteen, maybe twenty hours per week would be reasonable but certainly not the 35 hours (5 hours per day times 7 days) reported by Nielson. It is surprising that since I started living without a television set, I have stopped the practice of plopping myself down in front of the boob tube and systematically going through all the channels looking for something, for anything to occupy my time. Oh look, here's an infomercial I haven't seen. Ha ha.

However, I do admit that the Internet is without a doubt the centre of my time, not just for television, but communication and information. I blog which involves research. I spend time, maybe a lot of time, reading the news, researching topics by doing Google searches, reading articles written by journalists but preferably by recognised experts, then writing about my findings and posting them online. I publicise my work using social media especially Twitter and Facebook. As a consequence, for me, while television and specifically television over the Internet is a fraction of my free time, the Internet is without a doubt my interactive gateway to the world.

My question is this. 50 years ago when I was growing up, it would seem much of our time communicating was done face to face with neighbours and acquaintances. Newspapers were important and of course, television although in its infancy was taking off like a rocket.

Today, the Internet is linking us all in a new way. Unlike the newspapers and television of my youth which were one-way conduits of information, the Internet is providing a more interactive form of communication. Yes, television is still a one-way street but social media like Facebook and Twitter or self-publication like blogs or eBooks or personal web sites are allowing all of us to talk back to people or to talk to the world. Is this good or bad? Or is this merely different? Is this an addiction? Or has technology given us a better form of communication? Heck, are we addicted to communication?

Intermittent Reinforcement
B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) was an American psychologist best known for his work in the area of behaviourism. As opposed to Freud who delved into the inner workings of the mind, Skinner concerned himself with what we do saying the inner why wasn't as important as knowing what we can see and measure, namely, our behaviour.

I never have forgotten from my university days about Skinner's study of intermittent reinforcement. The story goes that he taught a pigeon to press a button to get a seed. The bird would press the button and out popped a seed. From there, he started varying the number of button presses necessary to get a seed. Instead of every time, the seed would come every second press or every third press. Then Skinner made it three, four or five times, or varied it: every second time then every tenth time. What he observed was that the pigeon would repeatedly press the button in the hopes of getting a seed. It wasn't necessary to be rewarded for each press for the pigeon to continue its behaviour of pressing the button.

This concept was applied to gambling. We put a coin in a slot machine and pull the handle. We lose. We put in another coin. We lose. We put in another coin and we win. We continue to gamble. In other words, we don't have to win each time to continue putting coins in the machine; we only need to win once in a while. For a more detailed look at this, see my blog: Would Skinner have owned a Blackberry?

I jokingly but seriously compared this to email and how we seem to repeatedly check our Inbox looking for new mail. Once in a while, our persistence pays off but just as with gambling or like the pigeon, we continue our behaviour looking for the reward. Yes, it's an odd comparison but I have certainly observed in myself that during the course of the day as I am either at work or at home going over to check my Inbox. Am I addicted to email? Or is my email just an experiment in behaviourism?

Final Word
Is life changing? You bet. Are we moving into new territory where there may not be a clear explanation of what's going on? You bet. Are we addicted? Are we crazy? Are we too plugged in? Or is this merely the nature of the beast?

When I was a child in the 1950s (Yes, I'm that old… OMG! He grew up before the Internet!), there were no cellphones, no personal computers, and no Internet. What's a valid comparison? Is a child growing up today with their own cellphone, their own computer, and the Internet in some way abnormal in comparison with me as a child? I think it's not just different; it's better.

We collectively must be careful about painting any new phenomenon with a sky is falling brush stroke. With anything, there are problems but that does not mean that statistically the entire thing is going to hell in a handcart. Nothing is perfect so statistically there will always be something which goes wrong. Our problem is understanding just what the phenomenon is and what should be considered normal. Let's all be careful we don't look at anything new as we're a bunch of luddites.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to check my Blackberry, emphasis on "need". And I'm going to get progressively irritable if I don't.

Just an FYI: If I get up in the middle of the night to go to the washroom, I do NOT check my Blackberry. Ha ha.

 
Click HERE to read more from William Belle

References

Nomophobia: And here I was thinking it was the fear of gnomes.

Wikipedia: Nomophobia
Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. The term, an abbreviation for "no-mobile-phone phobia", was coined during a study by the UK Post Office who commissioned YouGov, a UK-based research organisation to look at anxieties suffered by mobile phone users.

Rogers Conmmunications – Dec 27/2012
Innovation Report: 2012 Trend Watch
From November 15th to November 19th, 2012, an online survey was conducted among a sample of of 1040 Canadians that own and use a smartphone or tablet and subscribe to the Internet or have a data plan for either device, who are Angus Reid Forum panel members.

SecurEnvoy – Feb 16/2012
66% of the population suffer from Nomophobia the fear of being without their phone
A recent survey of 1,000 people in employment, conducted using OnePoll, discovered two thirds of respondents fear losing or being without their mobile phone.

my blog: Would Skinner have owned a Blackberry?
In 1972, my first visit to university, I took a course in psychology which covered behaviourism and the work of B. F. Skinner (1904-1990). I was so fascinated by the American psychologist and his studies of operant conditioning that I have never forgotten the material even after more than thirty years. However for me, the most interesting concept in his work was intermittent reinforcement.

Nielson – May 3/2012
The Cross Platform Report – Q4 2011
The average American watches nearly five hours of video each day, 98 percent of which they watch on a traditional TV set. Although this ratio is less than it was just a few years ago, and continues to change, the fact remains that Americans are not turning off. They are shifting to new technologies and devices that make it easier for them to watch the content they want whenever and wherever is most convenient for them. As such, the definition of the traditional TV home will continue to evolve.

Wikipedia: Luddite
The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who violently protested against the machinery introduced during the Industrial Revolution that made it possible to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work.

In contemporary thought
Many of the ideas that were encompassed within the Luddite movement have been studied and evaluated in modern economic literature. The concept of "Skill Biased Technological Change" (SBTC) posits that technology contributes to the de-skilling of routine, manual tasks. The Luddite fallacy addresses the idea that technological advances can have adverse effects on structural unemployment. Most mainstream economists agree that the benefits technology provides to the economy as a whole (i.e. increased aggregate demand due to falling prices) outweigh the costs of the temporary displacement of particular workers, who can find other work as technology fuels economic growth.

In modern usage, "Luddite" is a term describing those opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or new technologies in general.

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