If you were one of those who could not post to Facebook or Instagram on March 13 and felt uneasy or a experienced FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), congratulations! You may have experienced a relatively new affliction dubbed “Nomophobia.”

A search on Google (which is a big part of the addiction to all things internet) defines the term as an irrational fear of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use it for some reason (such as Facebook failure).

The word is reportedly a 2010 shorthand for “no-mobile-phone phobia.” An article on the Scientific American website cites research showing reliance on our phones as an external source of information reduces our ability to acquire and retain knowledge about particular topics. It’s true of other sources of info: If you hang around someone with expertise on a particular topic, you probably won’t bother developing that expertise, even if doing so would help you in your daily job or private life.

Smart phones are simply becoming another companion, though more constantly available and near-omniscient. The Sci Am article notes research has found that “when it comes to acquisition and retention of information, our brains treat our devices like relationship partners.”

A September 2014 article in Psychology Today called Nomophobia “a rising trend in students,” hardly a surprise to teachers and college professors. A particularly unsettling finding: 34 percent of people admitted to answering their phone during intimacy with a partner.

In her 2012 book Alone Together, social scientist and psychologist Sherry Turkle addressed the evolution of our dependence on — and more importantly, attitude toward — rapidly-evolving social media and robot programs masquerading as real humans (Alexa, Siri and those programs guiding you through options when you call mega-companies these days, to name a few).

The book hit several recurring themes, one of the biggest being the transition we have made from thinking of these digital entities as “good enough” for tasks at hand to considering them “better than” human interaction.

The quintessential example: People, particularly young people, dislike using the phone as, well, a phone. Actually calling someone is too personal, too invasive. Texting is considered better, more socially acceptable, less stressful or intrusive. Similarly, social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram are considered easier ways to stay in touch than live interaction.

The irony, of course, as Turkle’s title suggests, is that we believe we are better connected by radically reducing physical connections (alone together). We are also, she notes, bombarded with endless digital pings from everyone and anyone via each digital option. We get texts, emails (now dated), Facebook updates, Instagram notifications, tweets and much more, so much so that people, particularly teens, ignore the world around them to focus on our phones (some teens Turkle interviewed conceded that if they get a text while driving, they have an uncontrollable need to read them, even knowing the distraction can be deadly).

And we feel slighted, even anxious, when someone does not respond to our texts, posts and other digital outreach in a timely fashion.

If you felt uneasy, even deprived, during a few hours without Facebook, perhaps you should consider it a warning, and an example. The world, including yours, went on just fine without you making posts or getting them. In a real emergency, your phone would still have worked as a phone.

— The Times Leader

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