It really is time to face up to another addiction that nearly all of us have, though nearly all of us minimise.
I have no idea whether the lady in the above photograph (Peaches Geldof) has an addiction to smartphones or not, but that now notorious image of her hanging on to her phone conversation, while scooping her infant son up from his crashed buggy sure rang a bell (sorry) with the addict in me. How many times, in the slow car crash of my drinking life, had I carefully seen to my own priorities, making sure that my true loved one (my addiction) was safe before I saw to my other loved ones’ needs?
Can phone use be an addiction? Well the behaviour of phone users certainly looks addictive; from a distance, phone use looks a bit like cigarette use except that people put phones to their ears instead of to their mouths. There is that look of gratification, of a need being met and anxiety allayed.
So, are there serious consequences involved? Leaving aside the thought that all those little microwaves might be frying your brain every time you make a call (nobody seems too sure about that one), there are other possible consequences such as time wasted, undue dependence on meaningless communication, unrealistic thinking and expectations, money spent, loss of privacy and other interests.
And there are consequences for society in general. Look at a movie of say 15 years ago, as I did the other day. I was struck by the easy way people moved – no measured pacing up and down, no one-sided loud conversations in public places, no frantic scrabbling in bags and pockets to trace the ubiquitous beep. Why, I found myself asking, did we saddle ourselves with this electronic gadfly? Why did we choose to make ourselves answerable, testable, traceable, just plain available, 24/7? If a government had tried to impose such an idea upon us fifty years ago, there would have been uproar. We chose this ourselves and now it seems, we can’t do without it!
Withdrawal, as any doctor will tell you, is one of the classic criteria for diagnosing addiction. Try living for a few days without your mobile and see how you feel – anxious, irritable, impatient, lonely, stressed, depressed, perhaps all at once – these are emotions commonly felt by most people.
Nomophobia, a word unknown five years ago, is the fear of being out of mobile phone communication. It is reckoned by some to be the fastest-growing global phobia. Symptoms are constant checking of phones for messages and missed calls, inability to ever turn one’s phone off, constantly topping up battery power, and taking one’s phone everywhere, even into the bathroom.
It is estimated that a great many of us, show some of the symptoms described above. Some people’s lives can be made unbearable about this and there are already clinics where treatment is available. I suspect, however, that many of us shrink from taking this treatment because we fear that the cure will be worse than the disease.