Imagine being without your mobile phone. Then imagine being without your mobile phone outside the U.S. for five days.
That’s what happened to me last week as I lost my smartphone at Philadelphia airport just before going to a conference in Montreal. That multimedia device that I use to access all types of media from email to news had fallen out of my briefcase. For the next five days, I had to manage without an iPhone.
One of my students felt my pain. “To imagine myself without my phone for five days is simply unimaginable!” She added that once she had to cut back on her usage for financial reasons and felt entirely out of touch with her friends and the rest of the world. Moreover, she always wanted instant communication in case of an emergency.
These feelings stretch across much of the U.S. The fear of being without a mobile phone even has a name: nomophobia, or no-mobile phobia.
A 2012 survey of 2,000 Americans found some startling trends, which are probably worse now. Seventy-three percent of all smartphone users felt panic about losing a device, according to the survey from Lookout, a mobile-security firm.
I certainly panicked when I couldn’t find my iPhone after going through security at the airport. I checked my briefcase and my carry-on suitcase and could not find the iPhone. I exited security and looked inside and outside the terminal. I asked almost anyone I could talk to about a lost phone. No luck!
I wanted to tell my wife about the lost device. Think about the last time you had to use — let alone find — a pay telephone. You need $1 in change, which almost no one has, or a credit card, which in my case, three different ones didn’t work.
At the conference in Montreal, I felt almost naked without a phone. As my colleagues pecked and poked at their devices and scrolled up, down and across, I was simply left alone in my desire to do the same.
Then I had an epiphany. Why not ignore my loss of my access to communication and multimedia? That was a little difficult. First, the Internet cafes, which seemed to exist on almost every street corner across the world, have shut down in many countries. Second, Skype, the Internet telephone application, has deteriorated since I used it a few years ago. Third, I couldn’t instantly communicate with people at the conference to make appointments.
Undeterred, I used the hotel’s office center for answering email and grading the electronic submissions from my students taking two online courses.
Like many people, I use my smartphone as a camera. I also use the mobile device as a recorder, so I had to find a replacement. I realized I used my iPhone as the equivalent of a watch, so I felt constantly confused about the time.
For the most part, however, an alternative existed. My nomophobia started to dissipate and finally gave way to a sense of freedom from immediately answering some question via text or dismissing some piece of spam on my email. Moreover, the Twitter feed had become so depressing, I didn’t really miss it. I actually spoke with people rather than texted them.
It may be the equivalent of taking the long way home, as Supertramp put it in 1979, long before the era of mobile phones, but I think I might venture outside without my iPhone, which was found at the airport by security personnel upon my arrival back in Philadelphia. I may be at least partially cured of my nomophobia.
• Christopher Harper teaches journalism at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @charper51.