Unplugged – My Nomophobia Revealed

by Emily Kemme
Unplugged - My Nomophobia Revealed

The first time I dropped my pristine, gold-burnished iPhone 6 Plus on the garage floor I chalked it up to trying to be too efficient. My hands were full of work-related documents — not, despite circulating rumors, bags of new shoes — and the phone simply . . . slipped from my hands. I picked it up off the floor, mournfully noting the hairline crack in the upper right corner, marring the otherwise perfectly white screen.

“It’s okay,” I lectured myself. “The phone will live another day. This little crack isn’t worth it to be separated from the phone to get it repaired.”

Unplugged - My Nomophobia Revealed

Why is it that we can separate from our cellphones when we’re out in nature, doing something fun and healthy, but while sitting at our desks, in a meeting, at the dinner table, the phone is a constant companion. Photo credit: J. Harrison Kemme

Except, I dropped it a second time. We were celebrating the Fourth of July — and perhaps overdoing it a bit — enjoying a traditionally lethargic lunch of fried chicken, cherries, and several vodka-and-lemonades. The lemonades were much deserved. We had risen at the crack of dawn, and armed with ten pounds of breakfast burritos stuffed into a backpack, cycled downtown to the Independence Day Parade, an event that draws over 40,000 patriotically-obsessed celebrants to spend the morning camped out on someone else’s front yard, clapping and cheering at every American flag, soldier, and high stepping horse that clomps by. Basically, you spend several hours clapping, cheering, and sweltering, wondering when the parade will be over so you can bicycle back home, up the hill, to drink vodka-and-lemonade until it’s time for fireworks. I guarantee you wouldn’t want to miss it.

When I dropped my iPhone 6 Plus the second time, it was more of a fling, because there was a lot of wrist action to it, akin to throwing a frisbee. True, it was a $600 frisbee, but that will give you a good idea of the motion involved. I picked the device up off the patio, mournfully noting the spiderweb of cracks that crept downwards across its no longer pristine face. The phone had entered middle age, but I still wasn’t ready to part with it.

Dropping your cellphone for the third time in three weeks takes talent. Becoming unplugged takes courage.

You probably won’t believe this, but I’d never dropped a cellphone before — ever — until now. It seems that once you do it, it gets easier.

The third time, I was in the laundry room ironing (yes, I’m old-fashioned that way) and was plugged in to the phone, talking to someone about something. For those of you who know me well, you’ll understand that Tuesday ironing afternoons are meant for fundraising phone calls, or other sorts of business-related topics. If I call you on a Tuesday afternoon, don’t get too excited. It’s work-related.

The problem was, engrossed in the conversation of the moment, I stepped away from the ironing board. This is a problem when your cellphone remains on the board and you are attached to it with headphones. I was happy to live with a middle-aged, wrinkly screen, because that’s something with which I can identify — having reached the age of 52 — but when I slid my finger across the screen to respond to a text message and the thing bit me . . . well, that’s when the phone needs to get fixed. Every dog gets one bite, and every inanimate object may slice my finger only once.

The main reason I dropped the phone in the first place was because I had made a misplaced vanity statement.

Unplugged - My Nomophobia Revealed

I have always felt a cellphone case should reflect your personality. That’s why I selected one depicting a library card for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It was also a joke, a ringing anachronism.

This is what happens when you buy a cheap cellphone case. It was not an Otterbox, or a product containing an ounce of rubber. Protection was not the intention. It was cute, it was quirky, it was stupid, but it was a commentary about me, a person who reads (and writes) books constructed from paper. I’m a person who is the Editor of a print magazine, made from paper. There is something satisfying about turning a page — it adds to the process of reading through an article, rather than scrolling down a length of immobile and unfeeling glass.

I thought I could handle being unplugged from my cellphone for a few hours, because I’m a walking anachronism. Anyone who irons their own shirts would understand that.

It would only be for six hours, a very manageable amount of time to go unplugged. I texted my friend Karen about the impending screen transplant, explaining in no uncertain terms that I was preparing to go commando for several hours. She knew exactly what I meant, and texted me a Wikipedia link detailing a new ailment called “Nomophobia,” that, while not specifically diagnosed in the DSM-V, delineated a phobia common to life in the Twenty-first Century: the experience of separation from one’s cellphone. Incidents such as losing a mobile device, being out of satellite range, and simply running out of battery power without access to a charging cord are anxiety provoking, not to mention the cause of “respiratory alterations, trembling, perspiration, agitation, disorientation . . . [and yes] tachycardia.” Being separated from one’s cellphone can cause irregular heartbeats, according to Wikipedia. Technology has created a new sort of social butterfly, albeit a delicate one.

Unplugged - My Nomophobia Revealed

The cellphone has become a personal portal for hooking up in new and innovative ways. Skout, an App for meeting new people, touts its Social Butterfly as the poster child for the popular opportunity. All you do is Shake to Chat.

At the beginning of those six hours of separation, I worried. Would I experience ringxiety, where I was certain to hear phantom ringing when there was none? Several times, I caught myself blindly reaching across my desk to the spot where the phone typically rested, encountering only empty space. My computer screen became my sole companion, the only connection left to the entire world.

What might happen if I missed an important text message? What if the world needed me?

My heart thumped frantically in my chest; there were at least five hours to go and I wasn’t sure I could survive it. Constantly thinking about the status of my phone, what the new screen would feel like, I was unable to write. It was impossible to think clearly. What if the screen transplant rendered the phone inoperable?

About that time, my son Harrison strolled into my office and suggested we head out for a late afternoon bike ride. I never looked back.

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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,  https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.


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sooz August 16, 2015 - 9:41 pm

yes, I bought a better case this time… it is nice tho, white with a bit of gray…. and yes it works!!!
It is amazing how these things FLY !!!!!

Emily Kemme August 16, 2015 - 10:49 pm

I know! They’re slippery! My new case is tougher, too. Not quite as edgy, but still pretty enough. Function over form, I guess. . .

Greg July 25, 2015 - 10:32 am

Sometimes I actually want my phone to die. I wonder what that is called in the DSM-5, Phonacidal Ideation?

JoAnn July 24, 2015 - 10:10 pm

I haven’t experienced nomophobic yet as I still have a land line to resort to. LOL

Emily Kemme July 24, 2015 - 10:11 pm

We’ve pretty much given up the land line. It has an answering machine, but that’s it. I like being down to one phone, truthfully.

Sandra July 24, 2015 - 7:05 pm

Yes!!! Thought I was going to die yesterday and I have been told that my phone would had to stay at Verizon all day! !! Had to go home and get another phone and get it activated while they were working on my other one.


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