Nomophobia: Phone separation anxiety takes hold in SA

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Nomophobia – the irrational fear of being detached from mobile phone connectivity − is gaining prevalence among South Africans, with a sharp increase identified among youth and remote workers.

This is according to a study by power bank rental start-up Adoozy Power, which found a significant percentage of 18- to 26-year-olds check their cellphones at least 30 times an hour, or an average of 30 seconds on each interaction. This equates to spending at least a quarter of every day engaged with their cellphone.

According to Adoozy, an increasing number of South Africans are showing signs and symptoms of nomophobia, which takes its name from “no mobile phone phobia” – a psychological condition caused by not having your phone at hand, or not being able to use it or charge it straight away.

Among adults, this condition is gaining momentum, particularly among those working remotely, as a result of increased reliance on mobile phones to perform work tasks.

While this has been a topic of discussion for some time already, experts predicted it would only grow stronger in SA as technology becomes increasingly personalised.

Keegan Peffer, CEO of Adoozy, says factors that contribute to nomophobia among youth are compulsive smartphone use, fear of missing out on online updates, e-learning and safety.

“Our research is telling us that the number one reason young South Africans have a fear of being without their phones is because of safety. They feel far too anxious and vulnerable if they are not connected.

“We must also remember that people are social by nature, and the desire for young people to share the events of their everyday life, or keep up with others in their circles on social media platforms is a way of life for them,” explains Peffer.

Clinical psychologist Pam Tudin-Buchalter, co-founder of online social media education platform Klikd, points out that while nomophobia may sound like an exaggerated reaction to a small problem, its roots are serious, including the fear of being isolated or missing out on the ability to connect to or communicate with others.

Its signs and symptoms include anxiety, respiratory alterations, trembling, perspiration, agitation, disorientation and tachycardia. Nomophobia may also act as a proxy to other disorders.

Having studied its youth-user data over the past year, Adoozy says it found that 40% of its users aged 18 to 34 said they’d rather skip meals for the day than run out of phone power, while almost a third reported that they fall asleep with their phone every day.

Phones replace computers

According to Adoozy, while people were already attached to their cellphones before COVID-19, the pandemic-induced feelings of stress, isolation and loneliness contributed to higher levels of nomophobia in adults and youth across the globe.

The rise of remote work is seeing more people use their personal devices to handle their work tasks instead of traditional computers.

Implementation of remote working in SA has increased by 66%, according to a 2021 report by Ericsson. Since the advent of COVID-19, the work-from home trend has led to an increase in smartphone usage among 75% of surveyed remote workers – as highlighted in the GlobalWebIndex report.

“Nomophobia is by no means limited to younger people only. With the rise of remote work, more adults are turning to their mobile devices to complete work tasks, dial into virtual meetings, etc, so they rely on their phones to be productive.

“For parents doing school runs or planning child care, having access to their phone 24/7 is paramount, and the thought of not being reachable in the case of an emergency can be extremely anxiety-inducing,” says Peffer.

A combination of these factors, coupled with SA’s power outage crisis, has led to an increase in the number of South African consumers looking to connect on-the-go and rent power bank solutions from Adoozy.

“There is a need for on-the-go connectivity that is becoming an entrenched part of our new ‘workplace’ normal. Taking Zoom meetings on your phone (while in your car!), having instant access to your e-mails and Google calendar, handling work tasks over WhatsApp − remote working is changing how we use our mobile devices and will continue to do so in 2022 and beyond,” adds Peffer.

Setting aside some dedicated ‘offline’ time each day can be a good way for users to break away from their smartphone for a while, he advises.

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