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Do you suffer from FOBO? The curse of smartphone addiction

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It felt weird and I couldn’t quite work out why. Something was different. And I don’t just mean it was a warm, sunny day in September rather than brass monkeys “shall we turn on the heating?” weather as we’ve been used to recently. No, no, there was something amiss…

You see, over the weekend, I was at a picnic in Hyde Park. We’d just come out of our final rehearsal at the Royal Albert Hall before our Prom that night, and we were whiling away the hours on the grass in the very pleasant warmth. It was incredibly relaxing; one of the most relaxing afternoons I’ve had in a long time, actually. I looked around. Everyone else was relaxed too, sitting or lying in little groups, picking at the grass, knocking back the odd drink, nibbling the odd crisp. But what was missing? Something, something…

And then it occurred to me: nobody – and I mean NOBODY – was looking at their phone. I had left my own phone on silent (due to the rehearsal) and simply hadn’t thought to turn it back on again. Nor had I thought to post the obligatory photo of my lunch or – even worse – a selfie. And amazingly, nobody else in our group of about 20 had either.

I think that must be pretty much the only time in recent memory where I’ve been at a social event of some sort and I have spotted absolutely nobody glued to their phone. And boy, did it feel nice. Everybody was very relaxed too, just enjoying being together face to face with friends, rather than telling other friends virtually what they were up to online, notching up the “likes”.

Stats to make you googly-eyed

So, with my interest piqued, I did a bit of research today about our smartphoning habits. A recent Gallup poll has shown that a huge 81% of smartphone users keep their phone with them all the time. But the more worrying statistic is that 63% even keep them on even when they’re asleep. In the morning, 75% of people open their email in bed before they do anything else. What can possibly be so urgent? Not even a Groupon offer is that important. Worse still, 27% lose sleep worrying about something in their inbox.

It turns out that there is now an acronym for our generational condition. We apparently suffer from FOBO: Fear Of Being Offline. I admit that I am currently in that aforementioned 27%, but that’s because I have a very real problem going on at the moment in the form of an extremely troubling legal situation that I have to deal with. But by and large, these aren’t the sorts of things that people keep their phone on to sort out. If commuters on the tube are anything to go by, besides general email clearing, it’s Facebook and Twitter that demand the most attention.

In 2014, I moved to a little village on the Herts/Essex border. Although I’m on a direct train line to Liverpool Street, this rural little corridor is also a rather annoying 3G-free zone (let alone 4G). So if my broadband goes down – which it often does – I’m pretty stuffed. If this happens during a working day, that can be bad news – while being a blessing in disguise as far as not being able to remain transfixed to my smartphone or iPad is concerned. For most of you Creativepoolers, though, whom I imagine are predominantly London based, this blessing in disguise won’t happen too often.

Don’t go cold turkey!

So what if you feel you’re suffering from FOBO? Well, the advice of Dr Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, is not to go “cold turkey”. It’s such an addiction that withdrawal needs to be done gradually, otherwise it’s too much of a shock to the system. So instead he suggests “technology breaks”. The essence of it is this:

Check your phone for 60 seconds, then turn off all notifications (email, Facebook, Twitter, etc). But crucially, leave it within your line of sight so that you don’t get anxious about not being able to check it. Then, after 15 minutes, allow yourself another 60-second check. Then you can gradually start increasing the time gaps: 20 minutes, 25 minutes, half an hour… Then, I imagine, once you become experienced at it, you can ban your smartphone from the dining table and bed completely!

The aim is obvious: less smartphone dependency is a healthier way to live, as is spending “quality time” with people in real time rather than virtually. But by all means, when you’re stuck on the tube and it’s impossible to turn the pages of the Evening Standard, go nuts: treat yourself to some smartphone gluttony.

by Ashley Morrison

Ashley is a copywriter, blogger and editor

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