You’re standing at an intersection waiting to cross and feel a tremor on your thigh. Awaiting a response from a friend you gleefully plunge your hand in your pocket and retrieve the phone only to find that there was no text, no notification, no phone call. This is called a phantom vibration. I’m sure we’ve all had this experience. In fact, in a recent study, 89 percent of college undergrads were familiar with these phantom vibrations. Only one in eleven classified them as bothersome, but those bothered by them were more dependent on text messaging as a form of communication and reacted more emotionally to text messages in general. There are also cases of phantom ringing. One may keep a phone in their purse, muffled by various articles and may believe that you hear a faint ringing or vibrating coming from your purse. While this may seem pretty innocuous, it does say something about our current culture of reliance on technology, notably smart phones.
The fact is, we’re plunging our hands into our pockets again and again to check our devices even without these phantom vibrations. A Nokia study found that the average cell phone user checks their phone every 6.5 minutes. That is 150 times during our waking hours. That kind of behavior is compulsive, bordering on obsessive. Every text, every Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram notification is positively reinforcing, giving our brains a little spurt of dopamine that brightens us up. So heavy smartphone users, when unable to check their devices or entirely losing access to their devices, feel a great deal of anxiety. Phantom vibrations appear to be a symptom of this anxiety. With the expectation of a text or notification, a simple itch becomes associated with a cell phone vibrations. In this way, technology is changing the way our brains process information.
New technology is a wonderful thing, but the more reliant we become to it, the more negatively we’ll be affected by it. It is a tool and a resource, not something that should consume our lives. A great way to break these compulsive habits of checking and rechecking our phones every few minutes is to separate ourselves from our devices for about a half hour each day. Just put your phone down, go to the next room to read a book, listen to music, talk to someone, eat dinner, what have you, just as long as you don’t have your phone at hand. We don’t need to go cold turkey, but we definitely need to practice moderation and this is a good way to ween ourselves off the the tech a bit.