The Fear of Being Phoneless, Quantified (Sort of)

Photo credit: JLM Photography. / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
This summer, researchers at Iowa State University made some easy headlines with a study on “nomophobia,” their term for anxiety about being away from one’s smartphone. I can’t get access to the paper itself, so I have no idea what exactly they found, but according to press materials, they gave respondents a 20-question qualitative survey about the level of anxiety they experience in certain phone-free situations.

Respondents were to rate their level of anxiety from 1 to 7, 7 being the most severe, but they also omitted any mention of what total score, when all 20 answers are added up, qualifies one as a “nomophobe.”

So here’s me thinking, well I must be one! I mean, I’m threatened by the very concept of smartwatches because one of their ostensible purposes is to give me less time with my smartphone. No thank you!

So I decided to take this little questionnaire, even though I’d probably learn nothing new, and to do so in public, with you, right now. Fun? Fun.

Here we go.

* * * Begin questionnaire * * *

1. I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone.

Paul’s answer: 7

How else would I know about things?

2. I would be annoyed if I could not look information up on my smartphone when I wanted to do so.

Paul’s answer: 7

Look, certain expectations have been built up around the Information Age and the post-iPhone era. I pined for this ability when I saw Penny and her computer book on Inspector Gadget, I lusted after the T-Mobile Sidekick when it brought Google to a cell phone, and now I get mine.

3. Being unable to get the news (e.g., happenings, weather, etc.) on my smartphone would make me nervous.

Paul’s answer: 7

Well first of all, my job is heavily affected by current events, as are most of my hobbies that aren’t strict performing arts. I’m not able to do most of my work or play if I can’t get the news whenever I want. Or at least I’m hampered. I mean, I could get a newspaper or something. Shut up.

4. I would be annoyed if I could not use my smartphone and/or its capabilities when I wanted to do so.

Paul’s answer: 7

I mean, I’m always annoyed, and this would break many camels’ backs.

5. Running out of battery in my smartphone would scare me.

Paul’s answer: 7

This is getting a little cruel. I mean, do I have to think about this? I assume this presupposes that fast access to a charger or backup battery is not available. In which case…guh…guys, I’m a little sweaty.

6. If I were to run out of credits or hit my monthly data limit, I would panic.

Paul’s answer: 5

I mean, I’d just pay for it, and explain it to my wife later. Thus the 5.

7. If I did not have a data signal or could not connect to Wi-Fi, then I would constantly check to see if I had a signal or could find a Wi-Fi network.

Paul’s answer: 7

What, I’m supposed to just give up? Is this not America?

8. If I could not use my smartphone, I would be afraid of getting stranded somewhere.

Paul’s answer: 8

You have to understand, I have no sense of direction or orientation. You know the way that some people are just tone deaf, and those of us with strong musical ears can’t understand what’s wrong with them? I’m the tone deaf guy, but with where I am in three-dimensional space. Okay, even two dimensions are too many. Before GPS, I was pretty much in a constant state of lost.

9. If I could not check my smartphone for a while, I would feel a desire to check it.

Paul’s answer: A million

Is this questionnaire not paying attention? Come on.

Oh look, new section!

If I did not have my smartphone with me…

10. I would feel anxious because I could not instantly communicate with my family and/or friends.

Paul’s answer: 4

This is different. I want to be able to keep up with my wife and kids, but for the species at large, no, I’m fine without yammering with them on a steady click.

11. I would be worried because my family and/or friends could not reach me.

Paul’s answer: 3

I mean, do they need me right now? ’Cause like I just sat down.

12. I would feel nervous because I would not be able to receive text messages and calls.

Paul’s answer: 1

You know what that’s cool.

13. I would be anxious because I could not keep in touch with my family and/or friends.

Paul’s answer: 3

They’re fine.

14. I would be nervous because I could not know if someone had tried to get a hold of me.

Paul’s answer: 2

Please don’t get ahold of me. Hey look, I’m doing pretty well here!

15. I would feel anxious because my constant connection to my family and friends would be broken.

Paul’s answer: 6

Okay, now we’re moving into parent-paranoia territory. My friends are fine, but go and bring my kids into it. Sheesh.

16. I would be nervous because I would be disconnected from my online identity.

Paul’s answer: 7

Look, I’ve been cultivating my ridiculous, cartoon-like online identity since I was 13, and I’m not about to let it flitter away. Bill Boulden once called me his “favorite Twitter curmudgeon,” and do NOT take that lightly. If you think my online identity is a mess, you should see the shitshow that is my meatspace identity.

17. I would be uncomfortable because I could not stay up-to-date with social media and online networks.

Paul’s answer: 4

I like my Twitter pals and all, but you know, a lot of you people can go scratch.

18. I would feel awkward because I could not check my notifications for updates from my connections and online networks.

Paul’s answer: 4

See above.

19. I would feel anxious because I could not check my email messages.

Paul’s answer: 5

Not the end of the world, but what if I miss a good coupon email or something?

20. I would feel weird because I would not know what to do.

Paul’s answer: A million trillion.

* * * End of questionnaire. * * *

Let’s add up the score, shall we?

Paul’s Final Nomophobia Score:


Yeah, that’s about what I expected. Maybe a little under.