Cigarettes, caffeine, cocaine and cellphones

A new addiction is taking hold of the world, leaving end-users powerless over their devices.

Read time 4min 00sec

Hi, my name is Bonnie and I am a cellphone addict. It has been about two minutes since I last checked my phone.

The human race today is faced with a new type of addiction. It slowly sneaks up on you - and once it has you in its clutches there is no going back. You develop dependence so deep you are left powerless as your hours are increasingly consumed by the shiny object of your obsession.

It is an epidemic - and at the root of it all: the cellphone, a seemingly innocuous piece of technology that is claiming the social lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent end-users across the world.

Smartphone slaves

This may appear to be a somewhat melodramatic account of modern-day progression at first, but let's examine some of the frightening facts.

In 2008, the term "nomophobia" was coined during a study, commissioned by the UK Post Office, which examined anxieties suffered by mobile phone users. It denotes the fear of being out of mobile phone contact ("no-mobile-phone phobia"). Yes, it is an actual certified thing. There are even centres that treat the condition.

Incidentally, the five-year-old study revealed that 53% of the cellphone users surveyed got anxious when they lost their phone, ran out of credit, had no network coverage or their battery died.

I suspect revised research would yield a far greater percentage - in part because the number of cellphone subscribers in the world has jumped by about two billion since then; partly because today's cellphones have a plethora of new and addictive functions - but mostly because I'd like to believe my condition is the norm rather than a case of social deviancy.

Women and children

Last month, a study of 3 800 people by Cisco found nine out of 10 in the under-30 age group suffered from nomophobia. Cisco CTO Kevin Bloch says cellphone addiction is happening subconsciously, and that for the afflicted, "the smartphone has become an extension of themselves; from the moment they wake up until the second they fall asleep".

In May, women's glossy Marie Claire reported that women would rather give up sex than their smartphone. Research conducted by AVG Technologies, says the magazine, found 57% of US women would rather be able to use their smartphone than have sex with their partner.

I admit I may have developed a bit of a compulsive reliance on my phone.

As if that wasn't scary enough, the addiction is starting to take hold of children as young as 10. The South Korean government last month launched a boot camp to tackle what it says is the growing danger of smartphone addiction. The initiative, a collaboration between the country's health and education ministries, aims to wean students off their smartphone dependency.

When I was 10, the only thing I considered weaning myself off was TV Bars. Give it a few more years and the term "wean" is likely to have taken on a whole new meaning for breastfeeding mothers.

Stark reality

Psychology Today defines addiction as an activity that can be pleasurable, but "the continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships".

The magazine says users may not be aware their behaviour is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

I personally don't feel my irrepressible compulsion to check my phone every couple of minutes has affected my work or relationships. I have no doubt my editor would back me up on that, once he has forgiven me for overshooting deadline again. And if I had any real-life friends, I am sure they would attest to it too.

That being said, I admit I may have developed a bit of a compulsive reliance on my phone. I realised this when, recently, I forgot it at home. How did that make me feel in one word? Dismembered.

So that is the first step. I have admitted I am powerless over my cellphone.

In saying that, I don't believe there is anything wrong, per se, with the desire to stay constantly connected - or with reacting with lightning speed to every red light, vibration and bleep. All things considered, though, perhaps it is time I make a searching and fearless mobile inventory of myself. Before I end up in a treatment centre for acute nomophobia - without my cellphone.

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