By Prarthana Mitra
In an acknowledgement of our growing dependence on smartphones, UK’s Cambridge Dictionary has declared “nomophobia” the inaugural People’s Word of the Year (2018).
The neologism, coined in 2008, is the fear or worry at the idea of being without your mobile phone or unable to use it. Signifying a scourge for modern society, the word comes from a blend of syllables that read “NO MObile PHOne phoBIA”.
It beat entries such as “gender pay gap”, “ecocide” (destruction of the natural environment of an area, or very great damage to it), and “no-platforming” (the practice of refusing someone an opportunity to make their ideas or beliefs known publicly, because you think these beliefs are dangerous or unacceptable).
How was it selected?
For the first time, the editors of one of the most widely used dictionaries in the world asked the public to vote for the word that best summed up 2018. “Nomophobia” topped the polls, as Cambridge Dictionary users from Tokyo to London to New York chose the word years after it was popularised by the British media following a YouGov report.
Wendalyn Nichols, Cambridge Dictionary publishing manager, said, “We add thousands of new words and definitions every year, and we were eager to give our users the opportunity to express their views on the words that best reflected this year’s trends and events.” She further claimed that separation anxiety is “now also about the intimate — and often dysfunctional — relationships with our smartphones”.
What is nomophobia?
Phone separation anxiety, first identified in 2016, is more ubiquitous than was previously thought, claim researchers studying cognitive responses of cell phone users and non-users.
According to The Guardian, a study from Hong Kong revealed that people who use their phones to stock, share, and access memories suffer from nomophobia the most. Users perceive smartphones as their “extended selves and get attached to the devices,” said Doctor Kim Ki Jo. “People experience feelings of anxiety and unpleasantness when separated from their phones,” like when a toy is snatched away from a child.
The problem with endless scrolling
Sociologists and psychologists around the world believe that cell phones seem to be filling an emotional void for Generation Z (born after the mid 1990s), who are living increasingly and vicariously through the internet. With the proliferation of social networks, smartphones have become indispensable in keeping us connected and informed all the time. The inability to make phone calls or send text messages rarely triggers the separation anxiety, claims Professor Mark Griffiths.
“People don’t use their phones to talk to other people – we are talking about an internet-connected device that allows people to deal with lots of aspects of their lives,” Griffiths explains.
Not only does obsessive phone usage waste time, but endless net browsing also has a greater impact on the human mind than was previously anticipated. The constant exposure to audio-visual stimuli and addictive consumption of never-ending information can sadden or excite us at whim, leading to severe effects on brain activities. A study from South Korea conducted on teenagers with internet and smartphone addiction demonstrated that their brains had higher levels of a neurotransmitter that slows down neurons, resulting in reduced levels of control and attention and rendering people more susceptible to distractions.
To stave off this toxic dependency, researchers recommend purposely leaving our smartphones off, or leaving them at home from time to time. Digital detox centres are popping up all over the US. France has already banned mobile phones from schools. A similar move in the UK was found to have improved students’ test scores. However, with information becoming a valuable currency and modern alienation making matters worse, the blight of nomophobia perhaps exposes the worst side of social media addiction.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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