Nomophobia: The New Epidemic, and implications for retailers

You might be nomophobic.

The feeling of being out of contact. The fear of being isolated from the outside world. Disconnected from friends and family, or random people you’ve never even met. If you identify with any of those thoughts, then you might suffer from nomophobia.

I was recently self-diagnosed with the condition. On a relatively short roadtrip, my phone was quickly approaching a critical battery level. I didn’t have any specific need for my phone — I was with my brother, we knew our route, and he had his phone in case of an emergency. But still, something inside of me just didn’t want my phone to die. I didn’t want to miss a text or a notification, and even though I didn’t need my phone, the thought of not having it available was just… well, unpleasant. The feeling was so strong that I ended up buying a battery backup at our next stop.

So what is nomophobia?

Some people like to make the simple claim that nomophobia is an addiction to smartphones, but this has seen some pushback from those in the scientific community. After all, feeling a little anxious apart from your phone probably can’t/shouldn’t be put in the same category as alcoholism or other hardcore substance addictions. But the anxiety is real, according to several studies.

Nomophobia comes from the phrase “no mobile phone phobia” and is pretty much just that — the fear of not having your phone and/or feelings of anxiety that crop up when cut off from your mobile device. Nomophobia could be set off by anything from completely losing your phone to running out of battery to simply losing cell signal. The term was first coined in a 2008 study that was commissioned by the British Post Office — that original study found that over half of mobile phone users could suffer from anxiety when cut off from their devices, and subsequent studies have reported similar (or worse) results. As you might guess, nomophobia seems to be especially prevalent among the younger demographic, from the Millennial to the hipster to the newly coined yuccie. Researchers at Iowa State University conducted a study involving 300 undergraduate college students, and they found four underlying causes of anxiety associated with nomophobia:

  • a general loss of connectedness
  • the inability to communicate with family and friends
  • the inability to access information
  • a loss of convenience

So what?

So some scientists have done some research and found that people are attached to their phones — tell us something we don’t know. It’s obviously not a secret that mobile has been rapidly gaining ground as a sales channel for retailers over recent years, so hopefully most retailers have already been investing in mobile. But there are bound to be some retailers who haven’t been investing heavily enough — hopefully the research findings surrounding nomophobia serve as a wakeup call to them on just how important mobile will be in the coming years. The importance of mobile for retailers really can’t be over-emphasized.

Luke Johnson
Luke Johnson
Luke once aspired to be a zoologist and first read of the elusive echidna when he was just a young boy. Feel free to email him with any questions related to marketing.
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  • Brittany

    Interesting article!! From some studies done from Iowa State and University of Missouri they have found linkages to smartphone addiction and alcohol/substance addiction. There are similar symptoms faced with the anxiety of being without your phone. As much as it seems ridiculous to have a ‘mental health’ problem caused by your phone it is real and very prominent and it is good to see more awareness about it!!

    Check out our blog – Face Your FOBO – https://faceyourfobo.wordpress.com/ We are trying to raise more awareness for this issue

    • Thanks for sharing. What motivated you to create a community around the fear of being offline?