Photo: Adobe Stock

During the long season of COVID, most folks have joined the “chorus of praise” for technology. Our smartphones that were once a modern-day convenience, have become as necessary as water.

During the never-seen-before-isolation, we were able to visit remotely with our families; many transitioned to working from home. I was able to attend yoga classes and church services. Some dabbled in virtual dating —although that is a stretch for me.

But when is too much too much? My bedroom has oversized windows facing east, perfect for stargazing. One moonlit night, in late March, I was looking forward to photographing the Paschal moon.
At 10 o’clock, I opened my window and captured a great shot — but, me being me, I had to try for an even better shot. Leaning out the window, I felt the phone slip out of my grasp. It bounced a few times and landed in the gutter of the first-floor roof.

Dismayed, I stood staring at the gutter instead of the moon. My thoughts were in flux: Climb out onto the roof? I nixed that immediately. Call someone? But who? It was nearly 11 o’clock. And besides, I could not remember a single phone number that was stored in my phone.

I went into my office and pulled out my tattered address book–remember address books? Mine is so outdated that most of the people were living on Staten Island, or have relocated to the great beyond.

Resigned, I climbed into my bed. However, sleep evaded me. The minute-by-minute “ping” of my notifications kept me wide awake. Was it Facebook, Messages, Messenger, YouTube, Instagram or TicTok (my new addictive social media platform)?

Good Lord, I was in the grip of an unfamiliar entity. No stranger to challenges and grief, I have known situational anxiety. But this feeling was creepy. Admittedly it was now well past midnight — the time when the scary monsters and super creeps usually make their grand entrance.

My unwanted guests began taunting: What if it rains? Will birds or squirrels get to my phone? Could the air outside cause corrosion? (I forgot that a lot of hot air goes into the phone while I am gabbing.) And this: What if someone passes by, hears the pinging sound, and steals my phone.

My thoughts were getting too weird, even for me. I banished my scary companions and admonished myself: “Get a grip, Ceil. No one is going to climb onto the roof to steal your phone.“ With that, I put the pillow over my head and fell into a fitful sleep.

When my eyes popped open at dawn, I remembered an old business card from a contractor friend stashed in my desk. He had written his cell phone number on the back.

My friend brought a ladder and retrieved the phone. We enjoyed a cup of coffee and a few laughs. He said: “Next time you drop the phone, do it in the street gutter.“

I am happy to say, my phone was no worse for wear. But I was. What in the world came over me?

The very next day, I came across a podcast that asked: What is your attachment style? Intrigued, I listened and learned that there are three attachment styles: normal, needy and avoidant. Who knew?

Much to my horror, the description of “needy” was spot on when it came to my phone. Boom! That is what ailed me! I experienced separation anxiety. As a little aside: my relationship style with the opposite sex is normal — a relief considering I probably suffer from “NOMOPHOBIA.” NO MObile PHone PhoBIA (a real thing according to the National Institutes of Health) is an anxiety disorder, a fear of being detached from mobile phone connectivity.

It is worth noting that there are some important similarities between cell phone overuse and behavioral addictions like compulsive gambling. The similarities include loss of control, persistence, tolerance, withdrawal and relapse.

We have become irrevocably immersed in our digital lives, prioritizing the virtual world. Our phones accompany us wherever we go, demanding our attention multiple times a day: These distractions take us away from the really – real world. And that folks, is unfortunate.

I have noticed couples interacting with their phones instead of conversing with each other while dining out. This should cause one to pause. Is scrolling through our notifications rather than engaging with the person sitting across from us more important? If it is, I would reevaluate the relationship.

I mean, really, during a Jimmy Buffett concert at Jones Beach a couple of years ago, the gal in front of me was texting. The guy who accompanied her was fully engaged in the music. If she could ignore Jimmy Buffett, I cannot imagine the state of their relationship.

Are we in danger of losing our conversational skills? Scientists believe that excessive cell phone use could lead to an inability to form relationships and communicate effectively. A lack of face-to face diminishes the ability to interpret verbal cues in communication — something to think about!

Back to my question. When is too much too much? I do not know, but perhaps a more refined use of our cell phones is in order. I am gonna challenge myself to start today. Care to join me?

But wait…my phone just pinged; bear with me a second while I check my notification.

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Celia Marszal-Iannelli
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.