South Africa has been hit by a new wave of addiction – in the form of a failure to be separated from a smartphone.
There’s even a word for it: nomophobia, coined from a term, no-mobile-phone-phobia. It is a psychological syndrome in which a person is afraid of being out of cellphone contact.
And, according to experts, cellphone addiction merited inclusion in substance and behavioural addiction, like gambling disorder.
Cellphone addiction has been labelled an obsessive-compulsive disorder by experts across the world, hitting largely young smartphone users who depend on the gadget to fit in, remain socially active and to stave off loneliness.
Experts have declared it as potentially one of the biggest non-drug addictions in the 21st century.
Similar problems have caught South Africa in the behavioural cellphone habit grip, as has been found in a study by Unisa.
It found that about six in every 10 pupils were heavily reliant on their cellphones.
The pupils regarded their mobile devices as a common denominator for inclusivity and to being part of a digital cellphone community of friends.
The study, conducted by the Bureau of Market Research College of Economic and Management Sciences, was the first of its kind in the country.
It was done to determine problematic cellphone habits among high school pupils.
Almost 50 percent of surveyed pupils from 11 private schools and a similar number from public schools displayed addiction behaviours. The study also found higher prevalence rates of cellphone addiction among female, higher school grades and older pupils.
Their behaviour fell in line with other studies on cellphone behaviour conducted around the world, with psychologists describing several symptoms of the typical newly-emerged mental disorder known as smartphone addiction or smartphone dependence.
Typical symptoms included users admitting to getting diverted and becoming unable to focus on almost anything if they did not have their cellphones in hand.
“Even if they put their smarphone in vibration mode, they continuously keep watching whether there is any missed call or messages received,” a mobile communication expert report said.
Mobile users admitted to their reluctance to putting their phones on a charger, preferring to use alternative battery-charging options such as power banks.
Teenagers and adults alike were in the grip of nomophobia, according to studies.
Nomophobia also describes the fear generated when a user is unable to communicate via cellphone.
Communication experts said it was characterised by a fear people faced when they could not get a signal from a mobile tower, run out of battery, forget to take the phone with them or simply do not receive calls, texts or e-mail notifications for a certain period of time.
Young smartphone users in the country said they used their phones to listen to music, take pictures, for the internet, to send and receive text messages and social networking.
Adults, on the other hand, said they used their cellphones for social media, texting and chatting, online shopping and playing games.
Both groups admitted to hours spent on their cellphone and showing behavioural cellphone problems, the study said.
Identified by psychologists as being chief among symptoms of addiction have been excessive use and the loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension and depression when the phone or network was inaccessible, and symptoms of nomophobia or ringxiety.
“Although it has not been officially described an addiction, cellphone addiction has been dubbed the new cigarette,” Unisa’s Professor Deon Tustin said.
Overuse of smartphones could affect users socially, physically and psychologically, he said.
Behavioural patterns were the tipping point, and could throw the country into a situation of a misunderstood addiction if the situation was not given urgent attention.
I need rehab
Anna Quan, 25, works in retail. She admits that her cellphone behaviour is bad. Quan says she has four mobile gadgets which she is forced to stay away from for most of the work day.
“Once I am off work I get on to them and can stay on for hours,” she says. She gets on to social media, checks for updates.
Thereafter, she searches social media websites. She also does her uploads. “Selfies are the big thing for me. I take them and upload them.”
She respects company and can stay away from her gadgets when with other people.
Quan admits she spends as much time as possible on the gadget. “Addiction is real. I see it all around me all the time,” she says.
“There is a need for cellphone addiction rehab.”
I use it a lot
Mpho Matsame, 23, an IT graduate from Mabopane, has been using his Blackberry Bold smartphone for over four years.
“I check my phone every hour, perhaps even much shorter than an hour. When I wake up, I check the time and messages that may have come through while I was sleeping,” he says.
Matsame says his cellphone kept him connected to the world. “I mainly use it for social media. I prefer Facebook more than the rest because it keeps me updated with the latest trending news from my friends and everywhere else in the world,” he says.
Matsame says he cannot imagine his life without a phone. “I can’t live without my phone, unless it has been stolen or broken. I don’t know of any other simpler and quicker way of keeping up with the rest of the world than a cellphone.”
I always have it
Ntsako Mathye is a 30-year-old medical rep who cannot keep off her phone.
It is the first thing she touches when she wakes up. “My alarm goes off then I get into my Bible app and read my morning devotion. I then check Facebook and then get up.”
Before she sleeps she gets on to her phone to say goodnight to her social media friends. “I have my phone with me all the time.”
When she works it is on her desk where she can see it. She takes it with her to the toilet too, and says she has never had to voluntarily keep it away from her.
The longest she was without it was during a three-hour trip home when her battery had died and she was stuck in traffic. “It was the longest three hours of my life.”
She’s also a big selfie taker. “You can’t take one selfie at a time; you change position, flick your wrist this way and that and pout.”
I’m not ADDICTED
Magdel du Preez, 34, uses a Nokia Lumia 535 at least 10 times a day and said she was not addicted to it. “My phone is mostly in my bag during the day and I never touch it when I am driving. I use my tablet more than I use my phone” she says.
Du Preez says she can go on for hours and even days without a cellphone. “I have often travelled to places where I had no reception and did not miss my phone at all.”
When she does touch her phone, Du Preez uses it as an alarm clock in the morning, for calls and text messages, mostly for WhatsApps, as well as Instagram.
“I drive on the highway often and I hate it when I see people on their phones, texting or calling, which I think is very dangerous.
“I also hate it when I am with friends and everyone is on their cellphones all the time; I find it rude and unsociable.”
Ntando Makhubu, Pretoria News