Have you ever felt the familiar vibration that indicates you’ve received a text message coming from your jacket pocket, only to pull your phone out and discover you have no new alerts? No emails, no texts, no missed calls, nothing.
What’s up with that? Is it a defect of the phone? A text that’s gotten lost in the ether? A phone call from a ghost?!
First of all, pull yourself together. Why would a ghost even want to call you? Unless you’re offering deals on spooky white sheets or rusty shackles, a ghost doesn’t want anything to do with you.
Secondly, the phenomenon is quite well known. It’s called phantom vibrations, otherwise known as hypvibochondria and ringxiety, and almost 90 percent of people have experienced it. Seriously, how have you not heard of this? First it’s ghost calls, and now you’re telling me you’ve never heard of phantom vibrations. Get with it, dude.
Anyway, experiencing phantom vibrations may be as common as hating Nickelback, but the unsettling phenomenon is still weird enough to make you feel like you’ve gone a little nuts.
Great news: at least one doctor thinks you have gone a little nuts.
Better (or perhaps more terrifying, depending on how you want to look at it) news: so has everyone else – and it’s all because of our increasing reliance on cellphones.
Dr. Larry Rosen thinks the ubiquity of cellphones and the phantom vibrations that come with them has actually changed the way our brains work. From NPR:
“Something in your brain is being triggered that’s different than what was triggered just a few short years ago,” says Dr. Larry Rosen, a research psychologist who studies how technology affects our minds.
“If you’d ask me 10 years ago, or maybe even five years ago if I felt an itch beneath where my pocket of my jeans were, and asked me what I would do, I’d reach down and scratch it because it was probably a little itch caused by the neurons firing,” he says.
Now, of course, the tingle triggers him to reach for his phone. Rosen says it’s an example of how our devices are changing how our brains process information.
An obsession with not missing calls and texts leads us to compulsively glance at our phones even when we know we haven’t gotten any. And it makes our brains interpret every little itch as the buzz of a notification, because we’ve been conditioned to associate vibration with receiving a message. We’re Pavlov’s dogs, if Pavlov’s dogs had a strong desire for constant communication with their fellow canines and insane Candy Crush high scores.
Dr. Rosen suggests taking short breaks from our phones throughout the day to lessen the compulsive behavior and tendency to mindlessly reach for the phone at every opportunity. It’s a strategy that makes sense… but does the idea of setting the phone aside for even just an hour fill anyone else with dread? Have we really become that attached to our phones? Oh, hold that thought — I think I’m getting a message.