Have you been tested for nomophobia?

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c. 2008 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) The 21st century has produced a new illness: “no mobile phobia” (also known as nomophobia), the fear of being out of mobile phone contact.

Researchers in the U.K. report that 13 million Brits suffer from this stressful condition brought on by the fear that their phone will lose its charge, be misplaced or simply lose tower contact, making them unreachable.

The study found that “53 percent of mobile phone users, with 48 percent of women and 58 percent of men questioned, admitting to experiencing feelings of anxiety when they run out of battery or credit, lose their phone or have no network coverage.”

You would think, with recent research theorizing that cell phones contribute to a higher likelihood of brain cancer, that we would take a pause and rethink our newest addiction.

It seems we’d rather risk tumors the size of watermelons than lose contact with all those people who urgently need to yammer on about their trivial pursuits.

Here we are again, suffering from yet another technological marvel designed to save time and improve our effectiveness.

Don’t get me wrong _ I’m grateful for new technologies. We live on a small island, one of our daughters lives in Brooklyn, another in Seattle, and my dad is in Colorado Springs. It is good to be reachable in an emergency, but I’m also concerned about technology’s potential to dehumanize us.

Way back in the 1960s, social scientist Marshall McLuhan warned that “all media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.”

Today technology connects us as never before, but it also isolates us. A child sits listening to an iPod on the way to soccer practice while mom or dad drives and talks on the cell phone. Families sit passively in front of a TV instead of talking with each other.

In our family, I’m viewed as the cell phone Nazi because I believe we should not make or take extended cell phone calls while in each other’s presence. It’s my way of taking a stand for human interaction with people who are actually present instead of snubbing present company in favor of the cell phone caller.

I’m fighting a losing (and, my family would say, hypocritical) battle. They seem to think I apply the rule more stringently to them and exhibit an irritating laissez faire attitude when I take a call that “I really do need to take.”

The spiritual consequences of 24/7 cell phone use, it seems to me, are severe.

When Jesus needed to sort things out, he withdrew to a quiet place and prayed. In earlier societies, humans enjoyed down time while they walked or rode their saddled beasts. Where are today’s quiet places? When do nomophobiacs make themselves inaccessible?

Without alone time, when do we think, meditate, problem-solve or pray?

In a day when people say they are too busy to pray, I’ve suggested praying in the car instead of listening to music or talking on the phone.

When I teach spiritual practices to students, I’ll talk about fasting. I’ve suggested a media fast. One girl asked if she Tivo’d “Lost” and watched it an hour later, would that count as a fast? Most students think a cell phone fast is some form of deprivation, cruel and unusual punishment imposed by a loony, aged, cranky professor.

On Sunday, I spoke on the Sabbath and mentioned its usefulness as a restorative time, a gift from God for individuals and their families to recharge and rest.

I suggested we should try to turn off our TVs and cell phones that day. Audible gasps filled the sanctuary.

After church, I headed for the carwash to support our high school mission trip. I phoned my wife, who was two cars in front of me, and asked her to pay for both of us.

The youth pastor’s wife yelled across the parking lot, “Dick, I thought you were taking a Sabbath from your cell phone!”

I would have answered back, but I was on the phone with my wife.

Feeling convicted, I hung up and dialed information to get the number for the local nomophobia support group.

Hi, my name is Dick and I’m a …

(Dick Staub is the author of “The Culturally Savvy Christian” and the host of The Kindlings Muse (http://www.thekindlings.com). His blog can be read at http://www.dickstaub.com)

KRE/PH END STAUB

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