Within the depths of the Ohio Union, Miriam Alghothani sits at a desk in a windowless room.
Every week, she works in such a room for a student organization with which she is involved. To better focus on her work, Alghothani puts her smartphone on “Do Not Disturb” mode.
Alghothani, a fourth-year in pharmaceutical sciences, considers herself nomophobic — having a fear of being without her smartphone — to a mild degree. Even though she uses her smartphone less than the national average, which is 3 hours and 23 minutes per day according to digital research database Emarketer, she is part of one of the most exposed age groups to nomophobia: college students.
Alghothani has a special connection to her smartphone, and the same goes for Aya Amin, a fourth-year in human nutrition dietetics. Relatives have said the students spend too much time on their phones, and they are aware that this overuse causes a dependency.
Both students utilize the “Screen Time” feature, which allows Apple users to monitor and limit their time spent on their smartphones. Thanks to this feature, they know they spend most of their time on social media, primarily Snapchat.
Even though Alghothani said she is not addicted to her phone in the medical sense, she recognizes being a “keen user,” and decided to take measures to reduce her daily use.
“It’s an emergency and safety protection, a social connection point … and sometimes it’s annoying,” Alghothani said about her smartphone.
Alghothani said she believes smartphone apps are intentionally designed to make people spend more time on their phone. She noticed that her apps gathered data on what she watched, liked and read and then showed her related and similar content that encouraged her to stay connected a bit longer.
According to the screen time feature, Alghothani uses her smartphone for 2 hours and 30 minutes on average per day. She said she sometimes feels slightly harassed by her own smartphone due to the plethora of texts she receives from her family and friends throughout the day.
“I feel a constant need to have [my smartphone] wherever I go,” Amin said.
According to the NMP-Q test, a 20-item questionnaire designed by the Iowa State University to diagnose nomophobia, Amin would be categorized as “quite nomophobic.”
Alghothani and Amin both said they use the “Do Not Disturb” mode while studying, sleeping or working, as it allows users to silence calls, alerts and notifications while their device is locked. They also said they avoid using their smartphone while spending time with friends or relatives, as they consider it to be disrespectful.
Amin said she is on her phone for an average of 3 hours and 30 minutes per day, and relies on it for “basically everything.” She said she consider herself slightly dependent on her smartphone.
However, Alghothani said she tried taking a month off social media at one point not only to help her focus on her graduate school tests, but to also evaluate the addictive qualities of owning a smartphone.
“It was surprising, I thought I would [have withdrawal effects],” Alghothani said. “After the first day I was fine. I kind of felt free.”
Alghothani said she views using her smartphone as a way to reward herself, after completing a homework assignment for example. But in some cases, she said she feels the need to carry her phone with her, mostly when she walks home alone.
Although Amin and Alghothani are taking steps to reduce their dependence, smartphones are a necessity for college students, and Alghothani said she believes nomophobia has to be very common among the demographic.
“I don’t think I’m alone in that,” she said.