Nomophobes of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your phones! *

Written by: James Dunne
Published on: 6 Mar 2017

In “Too Big to Fail”, the definitive book, by Andrew Ross Sorkin, about the 2008 financial crash we read of the titans of Wall Street and the US Government trying to avert the crisis. US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson spend “countless hours” on his mobile. This is less than a decade ago yet the phone he used was a Motorola Razr. Remember them?

That phone was so important to the events of that time that it was subsequently donated to the Smithsonian Museum. Its function was much the same as any phone you or I would use when we want to speak to people; albeit in this case the conversations were to stop the world economy from collapsing rather than to arrange to meet in the pub. Imagine what would have happened if Hank Paulson had lost or otherwise not been able to use his phone?  Things did turn out very badly, but they could have been even worse…

If you walk down any street, attend any boardroom meeting, watch crowds at major events, you’ll see people looking down at their phones.  These are not Motorola Razrs.  It seems that we simply can’t live without our iPhones (other smartphones are, obviously, available). In fact, a recent study in “Computers in Human Behaviour” explains that the more you use your mobile the more dependent on it you become.  Consequently, the fear of losing your mobile umbilical cord to the world becomes quite pronounced. It’s not just teenagers – senior management are as dependent on these little bundles of technology as their children, albeit for slightly different purposes!

The term for fear of losing one’s mobile phone is, as I discovered from Google, Nomophobia. This is a simple combination of “No”, “mobile” - plus “phobia”. That sounds right.

I remember around the early years of this century when all the board at the firm where I worked were given Blackberry phones. Mine was a particularly dinky Blackberry Pearl and, having at first been cynical in the extreme I grew to love it. Then came the iPhone – only 10 years ago – and the world has changed again.  Everything you need for business is on it – diary, contacts, world news, radio, music, videos, stock market data, sports apps and even, should you be that way inclined, Angry Birds or Space Invaders.

Could we live without them?  To test the idea, I emailed (from my iPhone, naturally) about a dozen friends, all senior recruitment/management or digital specialists, from both the public and private sectors.  The specific question I asked was “could you live without your iPhone?” and the response was, just about, what you might expect. I can’t claim this is scientific, but even with a sample that meets all the requirements for robust reporting I suspect the answers would have been the same.

Virtually none of those I contacted could envisage a world without some form of smartphone.  Answers ranged from “NO!” from the Commercial Director at a big recruitment marketing specialist to one brave person who said “no, but I’d like to try” while a highly experienced Business Consultant said “Yes, but not for long”.  A HR head from the third sector told how, “I had my iPhone nicked by a skinhead in 2012 but I couldn't live without my Android”.  Yet another respondent, a Digital Director in the public sector and the first to get back to me, sent a reply which summed it up for almost everyone, “Too embedded within our lifestyles now; music player, web browser, text messages and calls – and all that’s before we get on to social media”.

Interestingly, perhaps surprisingly, the one dissenting voice came from the new Sales Director of a $multi-million US online recruitment business. She replied to say, “Of course I could! Humans 'lived' for tens of thousands of years before iPhones came along. I dream of a world where I'm not attached to mine and I don't long for beeps and buzzes”. However, she went on… “Of course, in my current life. I couldn't. I rely on it for phone calls, emails, expenses, scanning contracts, checking in at the airport, ordering cabs, banking, etc.  But if I had my way, I would never see it again”. 

The most forceful response came from an entrepreneur who has some snazzy and very disruptive recruitment tech and also had a very disruptive reply, to wit, “I have twice had iPhones and had to return each because if you travel a lot as I do, they are simply not good enough for professional activities on the move; great for leisure, not for typing or documents. Also, they don't sync with enough standard professional tools so clients get very frustrated when diary invites don't work”.

Despite that last caveat, perhaps the last, and most telling, word should go to one of my senior level digital friends.  He wrote, “Would be completely lost otherwise. It is my primary source of information. I rarely actually phone with it”. 

James Dunne,

* I’m not sure what Marx would have made of mobile phones!