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New in town: Cell phone rage
Dr Roopa Nishi Vishwanathan
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December 29, 2005

Did you know that psychiatrists the world over are researching the effects of cell phones on users' health? What does psychiatry have to do with cell phones? A lot, says a study conducted by Sergio Chaparro, instructor at Rutgers University, New Jersey.

In one assignment, 220 students were asked to turn off their cell phones for three days. Shockingly, only three could do it. The reason: the others panicked. They were genuinely afraid of feeling incomplete without their phones.

According to the eighth annual Lemelson-MIT Invention Index report, a study involving new inventions and innovations, nearly 30 per cent of subjects chose the cell phone as the invention they most hated but could not live without.

image Business executives. Teenagers. IT professionals. Bankers. Stay-at-home moms. They all love their phones. But it is simple to cross that thin line between love and addiction. Cell phone dependency is on the rise, so much so that researchers in Britain found that their subjects referred to the phone as "an essential item, an extension of self".

Raghav Ranade, a practicing psychiatrist from Mumbai says, "Emotional dependency on cell phones is common nowadays. The problem with this is there is a backlash and fury against the phones when they refuse to do what users want them to. This could be a form of cell phone rage." Psychiatrist Snehita Paun from New Delhi agrees that cell phones encourage a 'hurry-up, I-want-it-now' attitude in users. "This can lead to a lot of distress when the gratification is not instant. It is like you not wanting to wait until January 1 for your New Year gift and wanting it now instead," she says.

Cell phone rage is the annoyance, irritation and frustration that users experience when they feel controlled by the very devices they can't do without. Any one who uses cell phones a lot, or is surrounded by people who do, runs a risk of being affected.

Don't you just hate cell phones when:

~ You feel forced to have conversations you really do not want to. (Like the ones with your credit card vendor or private bank representatives calling you at 8 am asking if you need a personal loan).

~ You are not effectively able to use all the features the phone claims to offer. Cell phone companies have a long way to go in making their products user friendly.

~ You type a long SMS and it is somehow deleted before you send it. Or you are expecting an urgent message and don't receive it because of 'network problems'.

~ You are in the middle of an important call and are suddenly cut off because 'you are not within range.'

~ During an important meeting with a client, your maid calls to tell you she will be leaving early today.

~ A car is holding up traffic and, when you pass it, you find the driver busy yapping on his cell phone.

~ You read a news item that attributes a major motor vehicle accident to cell phone usage while driving.

~ You are at a restaurant with your sweetheart trying to enjoy a romantic evening and an offensive man at the next table is screaming away on his phone.

~ You are waiting for the plane to take off and the person next to you whips out his cell phone to find out if the stock market has dropped a few points. This in spite of the fact that several announcements have been made requesting passengers to switch off their cell phones, lest they interfere with airplane navigation.

~ You are suddenly hit by an enormous bill from your cell phone company with lots of charges that are unjustified.

All these instances can eventually lead to cases of cell phone rage, especially when the build up occurs quickly. Add to this the fact that cell phones make you an easy target for bullies who can send you anonymous, threatening messages.

A study published in the December issue of the Journal of Family and Marriage states that increasing use of cell phones and pagers could be linked to a decrease in family satisfaction and increased stress over a two-year period. This is because phones let people bring their work home and take personal issues to work. Women seem to be the ones more affected.

If you think your idea of throwing away your cell phone is crazy, you are not alone. Sheba Talwar, a call center executive from Bangalore, talks about a friend who was trying to patch up with his girlfriend as he was driving and was so upset with his phone not working that he smashed it.

Joseph Tecce, an associate professor of psychology at Boston college, has conducted a lot of research in the area of phobias and addictions. He says, "Like substance abuse, cell phone usage can lead to several problems. People who instantly reach for the cell phone every time they feel uneasy or anxious about a problem are relying too much on it." This behaviour not only reduces self-reliance, but also paves the way for cell phone rage because it takes away control of one's behaviour and places it in the hands of an inanimate object known for its inconsistency. 

So, if you feel addicted to your cell phone, how do you get rid of that dependence? How do you gain control of your life again? How do you return your phone to being what it was intended to be: an instrument you could use at your convenience and for your convenience?

Part I: Mind your cell phone manners

Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan has an MBBS from KEM Hospital, Mumbai, with a Masters in Nutrition from the University of Texas at Austin. 


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