Nomophobia is the Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year for 2018, and it describes a condition many of us are familiar with—even if we never knew there was a term for it. According to The Independent, the dictionary definition is “a fear or worry at the idea of being without your mobile phone or unable to use it.” So basically, it’s that feeling you get when you enter the bathroom and realize your phone is in the bedroom.
The word phobia, of course, means fear, while mo stands for mobile phone. In other words, nomophobia can be understood as no mobile phone phobia, and it’s certainly a timely word. Recent surveys have shown that people use their smartphones more than five hours per day on average, and the iPhone rolled out its Screen Time feature—which offers real-time data about your smartphone use—in 2018.
Psychologists have been talking about internet addiction since the early days of the world wide web, and the American Psychiatric Association recommended that "internet gaming disorder" be studied more closely in 2013. However, medical literature doesn’t specifically mention smartphone addiction, which is what the term nomophobia seems to imply.
According to Dr. Marc Potenza, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine, the two predominant mental disorder manuals tend to focus on specific behaviors (like gaming) rather than the method of delivery (in this case, a smartphone).
Still, nomophobia is popping up more frequently in scientific studies. Researchers from the City University of Hong Kong and Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul titled their 2017 paper on the phenomenon “Understanding Nomophobia.”
“When users perceive smartphones as their extended selves, they are more likely to become attached to the devices, which, in turn, leads to nomophobia by heightening the phone proximity-seeking tendency,” researchers wrote in the abstract of their study, which was published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
As the “people’s word of 2018,” nomophobia was chosen by the public in a poll. It beat out the three other shortlisted words that the good people at Cambridge Dictionary felt best summarized the year, for better or worse. The others were ecocide (destruction of the environment), no-platforming (refusing to let someone publicly express ideas perceived as dangerous or unacceptable), and gender gap (differences in the ways men and women are treated).
[h/t The Independent]