Smartphone separation anxiety is growing problem, says scientist

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Smartphones are so central to our lives that being separated from them for any length of time can put people into a high state of anxiety – and the problem, it seems, is only going to get worse.

Researchers have been looking into the reasons for our ‘smartphone separation anxiety’ – known as nomophobia – and found that it has little to do with being unable to make or receive a call.

The main reason, they found, is to do with the key role our smartphones play in our overall identity by recording numerous memories that act as an extension of ourselves.

Social media scrapbooks

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter provide huge streams of photographs and comments from friends, relatives and heroes which act as a vast and powerful scrapbook of our lives.

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For many people, posting about their actions on social media has become a key part of their experience of an event and, in turn, the way they remember them, the study finds. And being without a smartphone means you can’t be posting about your current activities, researchers say.

“As smartphones evoke more personal memories, users extend more of their identity onto them,” said Dr Ki Joon Kim, of the City University of Hong Kong.

“When users perceive smartphones as their extended selves, they are more likely to become attached to the devices, which, in turn, leads to nomophobia by heightening the phone proximity-seeking tendency,” he added.

Separation anxiety ‘likely to increase’

Dr Kim is concerned that nomophobia could become even stronger in the future as technology becomes increasingly personalized – and warns people not to become too dependent on their smartphones.

“Recent smartphone and app development seems to inevitable increase users’ attachment, as the technology and related services become increasingly personalized and customizable.

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“This suggests that users should be conscious not to become overly dependent on smartphones while benefitting from the smartness of the technology,” he said.

Google’s photo service – which curates the user’s daily life by automatically classifying their image files and generating collages and animations from them – is a good example of this kind of tailored technology, Dr Kim said.

The research is published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

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