No More Nomophobia

Written By: Johannes Visser, Netherlands.

One message. Oh boy, who could that be? Every time I hear that distinct Whatsapp message notification sound I feel a jolt going through my body. A tiny stream of endorphin is shot through my brain, setting off a few milliseconds of euphoria; then followed by a pang of disappointment. I started using Whatsapp around the same time I was seeing a very special person. The affair was a cocktail of divine pleasure, anxious waiting and in the end, painful rejection. A bag of emotions, captured by that one-two-three jingle of an instant messaging application.

Two hundred eighteen messages. I definitely knew who those were from: my twelve chat group mates, venting sober or intoxicated, dumping brain farts, responding, apologizing, explaining LOL 😉 By now I had been traveling Asia for eight months. Sitting in front of a beach hut on the pristine east coast of Sri Lanka, I sifted through 218 zero-content junk messages realizing I had wasted the first half of The Golden Hour, that precious first hour after waking up. Shortly thereafter I met a girl from New York. We liked each other so we wrestled each other on the beach. There was no digital connection between us, only a chemical one, and a big salty wave engulfing us. My Iphone 4 resumed functioning after a few days but now I could only go online using Wifi, 3G was gone. I had enough. Clouded by blind indignation, I cast my smartphone into the Indian Ocean and I haven’t had a new one since. For almost a year now I’ve been using a $30 Telstra prepaid that allows me to call, text, use a calculator and stopwatch. Apparently I can take pictures with it too.

There was a bit of history behind that rage that led to the dramatic manner in which I & Phone parted ways. When I began my journey in Nepal, the online world was never far away from the mesmerizing reality that I found myself in. Blogging from the chaos and dust of Kathmandu or uploading pictures of my month-long motorcycle journey against the jungle or mountains backdrop, going online was a great satisfaction and validation of my life full of thrill. Aside from three weeks of Himalaya hiking with no mobile reception, I would always be online for at least one or two hours a day.

But then it took over. I began to measure the quality of my experiences by the number of Facebook likes that they received. I knew I had hit rock-bottom when in the holy city of Varanasi (two hundred public cremations daily!) I found myself scrambling to go online, anywhere anyhow, to see what was happening on social media. I was suffering from severe ‘no-mobile-phone-phobia’, or nomophobia: the irrational fear of being without the smartphone or reception or losing battery strength. Right then and there, I decided to chuck away the phone, to get off Facebook for one hundred days, and to really immerse myself in the full-on experience that is India.

The online world is so easily accessible, so instantaneously available, and it’s easy to forget that it’s been around for only a short time. But what an impact is has had. Nearly two billion smartphone users worldwide type, swype, snapchat, post, read, feed and connect in numerous other ways. It is just wonderful, this global interconnectedness and it’s not an exaggeration to say that a new era of human relations has dawned upon us. But of course, with every exciting new development, there is bound to be a down-side, a symptom, a shadow.

Studies have shown excessive use of social media can lead to social isolation. Nomophobia affects an estimated 66 million people today and is on its way to become a major societal ill. And when it comes to day-to-day interactions, who does not recognize the social setting where everyone together is looking at his or her phone doing this or that? When was the last time you reached for your phone when a situation got awkward or boring; even when you knew you had no new messages or weren’t going to send any? Did you ever realize that the buzzing or beeping in your purse may have immediately slammed shut the window to a small miracle that was about to happen in your carbon world?

Now, I am the last person to thunder down from Mount Sinai about the Dangers of Smartphone Use. Dealing with nomophobia is a process that is a personal one for everyone. I cannot say I have cured myself of it, though I’ve taken drastic measures to reduce its pull. You may find a different way that will suit you better. I hope that you do.

Moodoff Day is an Australian charity organisation raising awareness of smartphone addiction and the impact this has socially, on our relationships and our future generations. On February 22nd we are invited to refrain from using our smart-devices for 5 hours under the motto of ‘Breakfast Before Browsing’ and spend time connecting with people around us in real time, rather than digitally or through cyberspace. For more information visit www.moodoffday.org or follow them on social media.

Johannes Visser is a traveller and free-lance writer from the Netherlands. He currently travels and lives on the East Coast of Australia.

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