If I check my cell phone every few minutes, what does that indicate? I would want to know what you are doing and what you are feeling when you do that. If you pick up your phone and check your text messages, and you go 'I got to text right back to this person,' I would suggest that what you're feeling is anxiety about not being able to check in. That's one of the underlying issues of obsessive compulsive behaviors. If you got on your phone every couple of minutes and I saw you make this big smile and say 'I got an email from an old friend and it felt so good,' then I would say that it's probably an addictive kind of behavior. It's that split between a level of addiction, meaning we're trying to get pleasure, versus our level of obsession or compulsion, meaning we're trying to reduce our anxiety.
Talk about the phantom vibration syndrome, where it feels as if the cell phone is vibrating but it isn't. Why does this happen? We're just starting to see research on this. I think it's a fascinating phenomenon. I think it comes again from anxiety. Our body is always in waiting to anticipate any kind of technological interaction, which usually comes from a smartphone. With that anticipatory anxiety, if we get any neurological stimulation, our pants rubbing against our leg for example, you might interpret that through the veil of anxiety, as 'Oh, my phone is vibrating."
And this syndrome is fairly common? Yes, I have not found anybody whom I've talked to, particularly males, because they carry their phone in their pocket, who can admit that it has never happened. There are a lot of people who say they are patting their pocket all day long.
Are phantom cell phone vibrations a reason for worry? The worry part comes from this: Is it overwhelming anxiety and is that anxiety getting in the way of anything else in your life? Most of the people will report that what it does is it gets in the way of their social relationships, because they are constantly focusing on reducing the anxiety about what they're missing out on their phone. At dinner, they're not paying attention to their family and kids. When they go out, they are not paying attention to a movie because they are always on edge and worried. If they are at a family gathering they are always checking their phone constantly. If it's that severe, then it's time to re-conceptualize what you are doing.
Is there a metric that tells you whether you are overusing information technology, or is it only a problem if it interferes with your social interactions? If it interferes with a lot of things -- your social interactions, your work product and your family responsibilities - those are the kinds of signs that you always look for in addiction and compulsive behavior.