Are you a nomophobe?

Or maybe you suffer from sleep texting or glass eye. Welcome to a new world of mobile maladies

The joys of mobile computing are not without a downside. A wide range of diseases, disorders and syndromes have emerged around our growing gadget habit.

Here's my roundup of problems related to use of smartphones and other mobile gadgets. Are you a sufferer? Let's have a look.


Nomophobia is the most common smartphone-related malady. It's the fear of being separated from your phone.

Although not yet recognized by psychologists, smartphone addiction is real.

The word was coined in the U.K. in a YouGov report commissioned by the U.K. postal service to examine various problems suffered by mobile phone users. The study found that about two-thirds of the U.K. public suffers from nomophobia, which is short for "no-mobile phobia."

You can see evidence of nomophobia every time an airplane lands. Sufferers scramble for their phones and turn them on compulsively. In a Harvard Business School survey of 1,600 managers and professionals, 70% of the respondents said that they check their smartphones within an hour of waking up and 56% said they do so within an hour of going to sleep. More than half reported that they check constantly while on vacation, and 44% said they would experience "a great deal of anxiety" if they lost their phone.

There's even an Android app called Nomophobia, which doubles as a widget, that tracks your obsessive cellphone use.

Smartphone addiction

An extreme version of nomophobia is smartphone addiction, which is when one's preoccupation with a smartphone affects relationships, work or school.

Smartphone addiction is the stuff of Internet memes, such as this bride checking her phone during the wedding ceremony, and of course this inevitable Buzzfeed listsicle.

Smartphone addiction takes many forms. Lisa Merlo, director of psychotherapy training at the University of Florida, told a an AP reporter that some addicts withdraw into their phone in social situations and use the phone as a way to avoid human contact. She said the more advanced a phone is, the more addictive it is.

The South Korean government says 20% of Korean high school students are addicted to smartphones.

The cure for smartphone addiction remains elusive, although one journalist says he cured himself through meditation.

Sleep texting

Four out of five U.S. teenagers sleep with their smartphones within reach, either next to their beds or on them. Many do this so messages from friends can wake them up, which leads to "junk sleep" syndrome, a problem I told you about in this space six years ago.

In recent years, however, a new menace has been plaguing smartphone users, especially teens. It's called sleep texting, and it happens when people text without waking up or even remembering that they did it.

Screen insomnia

Related to "junk sleep syndrome" and sleep texting is screen insomnia.

Bright lights tells your brain that it's the middle of the day. If you hold a tablet or smartphone in front of your eyes to read in bed, it can make it much harder to fall asleep.

A hormone called melatonin helps regulate our body's clocks. Humans are hardwired for sunlight to set our melatonin levels. However, a bright screen in front of our eyes tricks our bodies into acting like it's the middle of the day, which suppresses melatonin and prevents us from feeling drowsy.

The solution is to dim the screen and hold your device farther from your eyes, and to try to minimize use of devices in the two hours before bedtime.

Of course, any screen can mess with your body's internal clock, from a laptop to a TV. But smartphone-induced insomnia is on the rise as handheld screens get bigger, better and brighter. And tablet-induced insomnia is a growing problem, too, because tablets are increasingly replacing paper books and passive-screen e-readers.

Glass eye

I coined the term "Glass eye" because I have experienced it myself. Google Glass beams a bright light into your right eye, but not the left. This isn't a problem in bright light because your pupil isn't dilated.

However, in a dark room, the use of Google Glass can cause "Glass eye" -- an uncomfortable set of feelings from using Glass in a dark room. These include mild pain in the right eye, and also minor headache and nausea. I suspect the latter two symptoms are caused by brain confusion from the right eye being exposed to a very bright light while the left eye is in relative darkness. The discordance, called "visual confusion," is a little like motion sickness.

Google won't sell Glass to children under 18, and the company warns users not to allow kids to use Glass for fear of eye problems.

The solution is to minimize the use of Glass in dim or dark places. It would also be nice if Google auto-dimmed the screen in Glass in response to the ambient light.

Turtleneck syndrome

Unless your arms are leaning on a table, there's no natural way to look at a smartphone other than holding your arms up, which is uncomfortable, or craning your neck down, which causes turtleneck syndrome, a kind of repetitive stress injury of the neck from craning your neck down to look at your smartphone for long periods of time.

As with all things smartphone, and the maladies that go with them, South Korea is way ahead on this one.

Phantom vibration syndrome

Have you ever felt your phone vibrate and then reached for it only to discover that it's not even there? If so, you're suffering from phantom vibration syndrome.

It's a relatively harmless malady, but one already common and sure to grow in prevalence.

The reason is that wearable computing devices, from Google Glass-like eyewear to smartwatches to clip-on computers, will increasingly use haptics, or vibrations, as a means of sending alerts to users.

In the case of Google Glass, alerts are sent via bone conduction, so you both "hear" and feel the alert. Google Glass users tell me they sometimes "feel" phantom vibrations of bone conduction alerts that never actually happened.

Smartwatches will rely heavily on vibration to send alerts, and we'll feel these vibrations even when we're not wearing a smartwatch.

'Success theater'-induced low self-esteem

Nobody reveals an accurate picture of their actual lives on social media. They omit the bickering, boring and unflattering aspects of their lives in favor of the fabulous moments.

The downside of this "success theater" is that daily exposure to, say, the Facebook News Feed leaves people feeling inadequate. That constant barrage of other people's best moments creates the illusion that everyone else in the world is living these wonderful lives filled with success and joy and adventure while you're sitting there, well, looking at Facebook.

A snappier name for "success-theater-induced low self-esteem" is " Facebook depression," though that's unfair to Facebook. The same phenomenon occurs on other sites like Google+, Instagram and Pinterest.

Selfie narcissism

It has somehow become normal to take a picture of yourself and post it online for no other reason than to say: "Hey, look at me!"

Consider the now very popular Instagram profile of a guy with the username " mrpimpgoodgame," the self-described " leader of the selfie movement." Every picture is the same selfie. (He even sells T-shirts.)

Selfie narcissism is similar to mirror addiction, where people compulsively look at themselves in the mirror. The difference is that selfie narcissism is publicly and socially acceptable, thanks to the shameless example of ubiquitouscelebrityculture.

There's no question that smartphones and other mobile gadgets are wonderful, useful and powerful additions to our lives. But they're also causing problems.

The best news is that these problems are preventable. The solution? In general, it's a good idea to take breaks from your gadgets once in a while.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him on Google+. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on

Read more about mobile/wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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