Phantom phone vibrations are a relatively new phenomenon. After all, no one felt a corded house line ringing in their pocket 50 years ago.
What are phantom phone vibrations, exactly? It’s when you feel your cellphone buzzing on your belt clip or in your pocket, only to look at your phone and see that nothing’s there – no text, no Facebook message, no phone call – nada.
Though there’s not a lot of data on the topic, some research on the subject has cropped up over recent years. A 2012 study conducted at Indiana University-Purdue University found that 89 percent of undergraduate students surveyed had felt phantom cellphone vibrations, roughly once every two weeks. Further research suggests that phantom phone vibrations could be a result of our attachment to our technology. Dr. Larry Rosen, author of the book "iDisorder: Understanding our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us," discusses phantom phone vibrations in his book. Rosen stipulates that anxiety-related neurotransmitters are making us interpret random neurological signals as cellphone vibrations. He was asked about these phantom vibrations in a recent article in ComputerWorld magazine and said, “Our body is always waiting to anticipate any kind of technological interaction, which usually comes from a smartphone. With that anticipatory anxiety, if we get any neurological stimulation, our pants rubbing against our leg for example, you might interpret that through the veil of anxiety, as ‘Oh, my phone is vibrating.’ ”
Rosen sees smartphones and checking in with technology as a potent source of anxiety for many people. As a matter of fact, he published a recent study that examined how anxious people were when they weren’t able to check in with their smartphones. Rosen and his colleagues found that people who experienced greater anxiety over not being able to check their text messages or social media accounts were also more likely to have other symptoms of psychiatric problems, such as depression, antisocial personality disorder and narcissism.
Another study (done at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.), examining the prevalence of “vibranxiety,” gave a simple solution for dealing with phantom phone vibrations – over 75 percent of the people surveyed were able to stop the phantom vibrations from switching their cellphone from the vibrate to the audible ringer mode.
Are phantom cellphone vibrations in and of themselves worrisome? No. But the underlying cause of the symptom definitely is. If you’re always focused on what you’re missing on your phone, then you lose the ability to focus on the moment you’re living right now.
The resolution? Step back from technology for a moment. Give it boundaries. Rosen suggests taking a walk outside for 10 minutes every two hours, or making a designated technology check-in time every 15 minutes and not allowing yourself to do so in the interim.
This concept, though hard to implement, is not a novel one. Digital Detox Day, held a couple weeks ago, encouraged people to turn off their smartphones for the day. There are bloggers who have tackled the subject of Digital Detox for (gulp) as long as a whole week, and the results are heartening, if not downright heartwarming. Why not give it a shot and see for yourself?
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