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Are Smartphones Making Us All Infomaniacs?

"'Nomophobia' is considered a modern-age phobia ... fear of not being able to use a smartphone."

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A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry. (Insider Exclusives registration required for this one.)

I admit it. I am and, for over 30 years, have been an “infomaniac.” Even when I was a teenager, I would listen to talk or news radio, and very seldom turn to a music station. For some bizarre reason, I wanted — or perhaps needed — to know what was going on in the world. I am checking news, social media and email way too often, even now.

These days, instead of a radio, my smartphone and tablet feed my appetite for information, and the need for consistent connectivity is always present in my mind. To be fair, I do know how to turn this info gene off, and I am not a slave to it. But I do like to stay abreast of things and, whenever possible, I often use my smartphone to check news, weather, email, social media, etc. On the other hand, since tech news and issues are changing constantly, this info gene actually helps me do my job much better.

It turns out, I am not the only one with this tendency. A recent survey by Statista shows that among all adults 18-65, 11 percent check their phones every few minutes. Forty-one percent check them at least a couple of times an hour.

Note in the chart below that the 18-25 demographic are the most active when it comes to constant checking of their smartphones for info. But even the older demographic follows a pattern in which their smartphones have become a pipeline to the content they want or need each hour they are able to check:

infomaniacs chart 1

It seems that one of the things they check often is email. Some 33.8 percent check their email throughout the day, and 39 percent do it at least one to three times a day:

Business Insider

This is not too surprising, since email has been a key info/data point since the BlackBerry hit the market in the mid-1990s. However, now that we also have access to news and social media, the tendency to pull our phones out and look at them more than 100 times a day, according to various research reports on smartphone usage, is turning most people into infomaniacs without them even knowing it.

My staff actually has an ongoing bet with me that I could not turn off my phone or PC for three days. I have not taken them up on this, because I understand that I may have something called “nomophobia” which is defined as a kind of separation anxiety from our smartphones.

The Huffington Post recently ran a story about two studies about nomophobia, and shared key points from the research, and the development of a questionnaire to determine if you have it.

“Nomophobia is considered a modern-age phobia introduced to our lives as a byproduct of the interaction between people and mobile information and communication technologies, especially smartphones,” Caglar Yildirim, one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post in an email. “It refers to fear of not being able to use a smartphone … [and] it refers to the fear of not being able to communicate, losing the connectedness that smartphones allow, not being able to access information through smartphones, and giving up the convenience that smartphones provide.”

The research builds on a University of Missouri study published in January that found being separated from your iPhone can have a real psychological and physiological effect, including impaired thinking.

“iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of ourselves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state,” Russell Clayton, a doctoral candidate and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

To develop the questionnaire, the Iowa researchers interviewed nine undergraduate students about their relationships with their smartphones, identifying four basic dimensions of nomophobia: Not being able to communicate, losing connectedness, not being able to access information, and giving up convenience. Then they tested the questionnaire on 301 undergraduate students.

If you want to know if you have nomophobia, see how you score on the questionnaire from the study.

I am sure you will not be surprised that I scored in the severe nomophobia range, at 101. I really think I am in the moderate nomophobia category but, regardless, I am a certified infomaniac. However, I suspect there are millions of people in the U.S. and other parts of the world where smartphones are used daily that either fit in the moderate to severe nomophobia range, and I am certain that a teenager who nearly ran into me while looking at her smartphone this week was in that latter category.

Because my occupation is tied to information, I am not too alarmed at my state of nomophobia, but I am certain that, for most people, this is probably not good news. But the trend in smartphone design only feeds this. With new apps, more processing power and its broad social media capabilities, as well as near-ubiquitous connectivity, vendors are making the smartphone the digital center of our lifestyles. So if people want or even need to feed this infomaniac gene, it is very easy to do.

Although we have had the technology to let us be connected around the clock for decades, the inclusion of a smartphone as an information enabler takes this to new levels. It makes it possible for anyone to gain access to just about anything they could want or need, and that feeds their nomophobic tendencies. I will let the social scientists deal with its impact on mankind, but I suspect its long-term effect on most of us will not be good.

Perhaps it’s time for me to take my staff’s challenge and shut down completely for at least three days? Anyone want to bet if I can do it?

Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981, and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others. Reach him @Bajarin.

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