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Editorial: A nation of nomophobes

Admit it, you’re never more than a few steps away from some form of technology. Your computer sits in your lap or fits in your hand. Your phone is perpetually in your purse or pocket. It might even be in your ear, although bluetooth doesn’t seem to be as popular as it once was.

If by some chance you leave the house without your phone, you make a u-turn and retrieve it. Who knows who might call while you’re running to the market for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk?

We have become a nation of nomophobes.

Nomophobia, or the pathological fear of remaining out of touch with technology, is a relatively modern affliction, but it’s changing how we do business, vacation, communicate – even eat dinner.

Recently, a New York restaurant discovered that complaints about its service were rising year over year, despite adding more staff. Curious as to what was going wrong, they pulled out 10 years of security footage and examined the tapes for changes in service patterns. But surprise, it wasn’t the waiters that were at fault. Restaurant patrons were to blame – at least the ones carrying smartphones.

A majority of American adults (56 percent) own smartphones, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. Having the ability to check your mail, play games and browse the Internet right in your pocket is a leap forward for technology, but it comes at a cost. And in the case of the New York restaurant that cost was slower service.

After reviewing the tapes, the restaurant owners found that 10 years ago customers made a selection from the menu in around eight minutes and spent an average of just over an hour consuming their meal.  But in 2014, they discovered that patrons with smartphones took about 20 minutes to order and nearly two hours to finish dinner. The waiters’ service or attempted service did not appear to change, but it takes time to check emails, answer texts, share photos, update a Facebook status and Tweet what’s on the menu. It also takes time to photograph dinner companions and the food on your plate.

Some restaurants complicate the process by adding a game kiosk right to the table, which opens up game playing and web browsing to the non-phone carrying public.

As kids head back to school, they’re lamenting the end of summer vacation – those sweet summer days of doing nothing, but, as an adult, when was the last time you took a break – a real break when you weren’t connected to your workplace even though you claimed to be on vacation? When you weren’t checking in with the office or checking in with some form of social media? When you connected instead with family and friends by engaging in face-to-face conversations and dinners without cellphone interference?

As the kids head back to school, their cellphone use is likely to decrease. Although schools often encourage students to bring their own devices, teachers still want students’ undivided attention – and they deserve to have it. In the classroom technology should be an enhancement not a distraction.

Perhaps that’s a good lesson for life.

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