Word of the Month: Nomophobia

David Zapatka

“Where’s my cellphone?” “Have you seen my cell phone?” “There’s no connection here. It’s so frustrating!” “My phone isn’t working. What am I going to do?” “Honey, will you call my cell phone? I can’t find it.”

Have you heard these conversations? Scary, isn’t it?

This fear is so prevalent in our society today, there is a word for it. It was Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year in 2018. Haven’t you heard of it? Check your phone.

Nomophobia no·mo·pho·bia, noun: fear of being without access to a working cell phone

Origin and Etymology—nomo- (from no mobile “no cell phone”) + -phobia

First Known Use—2008

Nomophobia used in a sentence:

If nomophobia is more or less normal, how does one distinguish it from a pathological obsession?

Other words from the shortlist include Higgs boson, nomophobia (anxiety caused by being without one’s mobile phone), and YOLO (you only live once; typically used as rationale or endorsement for impulsive or irresponsible behavior).

New Yorkers and visitors to the Big Apple suffering from nomophobia will no longer have to avoid the city’s buses…

Nomophobia in the news:

The more powerful these phones get, the more we use and depend on them, and the more compulsive and nomophobic we become.—Jay Fidell, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 24 Dec. 2013

Using the online polling service OnePull, SecurEnvoy found that 66% of the 1,000 people surveyed in the United Kingdom say they fear losing or being without their phone. Just four years ago a similar survey found that only 53% of people suffered from nomophobia (no-mobile-phobia).—Deborah Netburn, The Los Angeles Times, 17 Feb. 2012

Nomophobia is now defined as a behavioral addiction similar to drug addiction. The symptoms of addiction may be the result of a need for comfort due to factors such as increased anxiety, poor self-esteem, insecure attachment, or emotional instability. People overuse mobile phones to gain comfort in emotional relationships.

The term nomophobia was coined during a 2008 study by the UK Post Office who commissioned YouGov, a UK-based research organization, to evaluate anxieties experienced by mobile phone users. The study, sampling 2,163 people, found that over half the participants feel stressed when their mobile phones are off. 55% of those surveyed cited keeping in touch with friends or family as the main reason that they got anxious when they could not use their mobile phones. The study compared stress levels induced by the average case of nomophobia to be on-par with those of “wedding day jitters” and trips to the dentist. Over half of polled nomophobes never switch off their mobile phones. With the study being done in 2008, I estimate that number may well be over 90% today.

Have you ever been aggravated by a friend or relative you are with who is constantly on their phone withholding their attention from you? Please submit nomophobic experiences you have had or have observed or any word you may like to share, along with your insights and comments, to [email protected].