Fear Of Shutting Off? That’s FOSO For Short: Here’s What You Need To Know

Addicted to your smartphone? We chat to addicts who explain why quitting just isn't an option – and offer some solutions for liberating yourself from your iChains.

woman lying in bed on phone

There’s plenty of evidence at this stage to say that excessive smartphone use is bad for us. Start with our physical health (repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome); move on to our mental health (body dysmorphia, low self esteem); and finish off with the fact that we now communicate far less IRL than any other time in history. So what is it about our smartphones that means we just can’t quit them?

“My iPhone 5 is rarely out of my hand,” says Emily O’Donnell, 32 (“and not lying about it,” she quips), a presenter and producer with Irish TV. “And when it is, I’m looking for it! The only time I put it down is when I’m on camera and have to put it down to hold the mic – it’s terrible.”

It’s a familiar story; our smartphone is frequently the first thing we look for in the morning and the last thing we look at before bedtime and without it, we think, we’d be lost. But would we really?

About two years ago, I destroyed my phone in a particularly devastating smash-n-grab moment that played out, in slow-mo, for hours after the fact. It was plugged in, and fell off the arm of the couch (precarious, I know), jamming the charger further into its charging port and rendering both charger and port entirely useless.

Our smartphone is frequently the first thing we look for in the morning and the last thing we look at before bedtime and without it, we think, we’d be lost. But would we really?

Without my phone, I thought, I’d be bereft; I’d lose touch with everyone; I’d be late(r than usual) to every social engagement. And sure, some of that was true. I was fairly upset and extremely anxious, without being able to see what was going on in the rest of the world; I didn’t speak to most of my “friends” (y’know, the ones I’d have on constant messenger chat) for about 48 hours.

But, contrary to what I had previously thought, without my phone to text excuses, I was early for all that day’s engagements. Later that evening, I rang two people I really wanted to talk to. I ate dinner without interruptions; I read about four chapters of my book. And no, I’m not making this up.

Emily, like so many of us, thinks that, in fact, her life could be better if she switched off occasionally. “Maybe I’d live in the moment a bit more,” she says. “I could be missing the present by constantly trying to gain memories – photographing things for Instagram… Or living through past positive experiences.” So why not switch it off every now and then?

“The idea of giving up my phone makes me feel genuinely anxious,” says Emily. “I’d be afraid I’d miss the dream interview for work, an invitation to something really important… Social media has made everything in life so instant. You feel like you need to be online all the time.”

Smartphone addict Nadine Schulz, 34, is the same. She says she feels “naked” without her phone, and that it’s the first thing she checks for when she leaves the house. So has it ever caused a problem with family or friends? “Yes,” she reveals. “Usually if I’m shopping with my friends, I’d be constantly checking my phone or chatting on it.”

So what’s the solution? Emily’s right, in a way – our always-online jobs and social lives mean that switching off entirely isn’t really an option, but we can most certainly take baby steps. Here’s our three-step guide to liberating yourself from the thrall of your smartphone.

  1. Buy an alarm clock. Retro, we know, but with an old-school waker-upper, the old chestnut of “but I need it in the room to wake me up…” becomes null and void. Leave your phone, charging and on airplane mode, in another room.
  2. Remove the Facebook app from your phone, at least from Monday to Friday. By all means check it on  your desktop, but watch what happens the morning commute when there’s no Facebook to perv on – you might listen to music or a podcast (we recommend Mystery Show); contact a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while; or just be at one with your thoughts. #zen
  3. Ban smartphones at meal-times. We know, we know, we sound just like your dad – but seriously, not only should you be eating consciously (chewing slowly and listening to your body when it says it’s full), but having dinner – especially if you’re out and about – is an experience to be savoured, screen-free. You’re welcome.