During a summer vacation in 2007, Cristina Pansolini’s cell phone kicked the metaphoric bucket and with it went her ability to enjoy a stress-free trip. Sans cell phone, how would she make plans with friends? Would her boyfriend think she was ignoring his text messages? What if she needed to contact her family? Although Pansolini was back in cellular business a few days later, the now 21-year-old college senior winces at the thought of being without her beloved iPhone for even a moment. “The thing is my life, I don’t think I could function without it,” she says.
Like an arm or leg, the cell phone is a modern day appendage that millennials have come to depend on. With the ability to talk, text, send emails, and correspond over social media, cell phones are communication’s ‘round-the-clock nucleus and, simultaneously, society’s hopeless addiction. Lisa Merlo, a clinical psychologist at the University of Florida, told “Cellular-News” that cell phone users oftentimes feel anxious when they accidentally leave the device at home or are forced to turn it off. But why are Generation Y hearts so uneasy when their digital counterparts aren’t in hand?
Some psychologists believe cell phone enslavement is a symptom of insecurity. Whether using the device to actually communicate or to merely kill time, people turn to their gadgets to suppress feelings of loneliness and isolation. “Cell phones invite people into a world where everyone is always available and at each other’s disposal,” says practicing Manhattan psychologist and psychoanalyst Jamieson Webster. Current Pew statistics suggest that 96 percent of Generation Y members own a cell phone, a lofty figure that goes to show how solitary it is to be without one.
Craig Levan, a Manhattan event and party planner, recently experienced anxiety when his iPhone was stolen on the subway. In retrospect, Levan attributes his unease to feelings of seclusion and disconnect. “Having a cell phone makes you feel like you’re never alone because you always have the option to talk to someone if and when you need to,” he says.
Touching on classic psychoanalytic theory, Webster also suggests that anxiety prompted by a lost or broken phone could be due to self-consciousness. “Separation anxiety is an identity issue at its core,” she says. “People don’t feel well in themselves if they don’t have that object they identify with.” Pansolini agreed that her cell phone is an extension of herself and noted sentiments of vulnerability when it malfunctioned. “It’s kind of my security blanket or safety net,” she says. “I feel pretty insecure without it.”
Simpler reasons for cell-less concern err on the side of being temporarily disconnected from friends, family and work. Lisa Gitelman, a media technology historian at New York University, suggests that cell phone dependence is due largely to portability. “They’re mobile phones,” Gitelman says, “We depend on them because we can literally carry around communication.” For many, cell phones are chief way people socialize. “My phone is how I make plans and find out about what my friends are up to,” says Omid Morshed, an NYU senior. As for Levan, stress surfaced because he wasn’t immediately accessible to colleagues at work.
So how do we put a lid on cellular apprehensions? Unfortunately, there isn’t really an end in sight. “Cell phone use is naturally addictive because it’s repetitive. This makes it hard to stop,” says Webster. With new devices constantly hitting shelves, cell phone dependence and its accompanying anxieties may simply be where things are headed. The temporary solution? Webster suggests taking a step away from the bombardment of mediated living to let real life reclaim center stage.