by Luong Thu Huong
Nguyen Hoang Nam from Ha Noi has a serious complaint: His girlfriend, Nguyen Thi Cam Nhung, appears to be more in love with her smartphone than with him.
Ever since she purchased the new iPhone, they've spent significantly less time talking to each other. "Whenever we hang out together at a cafe or restaurant, Nhung always has her phone in her hands. (She's constantly) checking Facebook or other social networks and playing games while charging the phone's battery. She seems to be constantly alert for new messages via Facebook or email. It is really annoying to hear her phone keep beeping whenever we talk."
Vu Hai Trang from Hai Phong City has also bought into the smartphone trend with a new Samsung model. She initially intended to use it for simple applications such as making phone calls or checking emails, but after a while, the variety of interesting applications on the phone got her hooked.
Now, she even takes pictures of the food she's eating while dining out with friends to post them on the Internet. Her friends complain that she has become too absorbed with using her phone, even when serious issues are being discussed. As a result of being constantly distracted by her phone, Trang has had less interaction with the people around her, and her work has suffered greatly.
"Going out without my smartphone makes me feel insecure and irritable," Trang admits. "I know it is a bad habit, but I'm finding it very difficult to break."
Cases like those of Nhung and Trang are not rare. Many posters on Internet forums have confessed to being heavily addicted to their smartphones and have expressed deep concern that their social life and work will be affected.
They have in common a "disease" inflicted by modern technology: nomophobia - an abbreviation for "no-mobile-phone phobia" - which has resulted from the rapid global development of technology in recent times.
At the Mobile Festival 2014 held last May, Intel Viet Nam Corporation revealed some very interesting figures about the number of mobile phone users in the country. For instance, a Vietnamese person, on average, spends 69 minutes checking tablets and 168 minutes on smartphones per day, which is much higher than the average time in the rest of the world (50 minutes and 147 minutes, respectively).
According to Intel, the increasing popularity of 3G Internet, public WiFi and cheap Internet devices has given the Vietnamese, especially the youth, more opportunities to use their smartphones and tablets than usual. They are extremely interested in joining social networks, making comments on funny photos, texting friends and playing games.
Some studies have shown that a person can be considered a smartphone addict if he or she uses the phone for more than seven hours per day. These studies report that addicts regularly experience symptoms of anxiety and depression when their mobile phone is not in their hand.
According to psychologist Nguyen Thi Tam, director of the Viet Nam Insight Applied Psychology Company, nomophobia has spread widely across Viet Nam as a result of the increased acceptance of smartphones. At first, people use it for its basic functions. Then, they gradually get hooked on finding more interesting programmes and fail to notice their growing addiction.
Tam added that besides feeling anxious while waiting for messages from social networks or online games, users will find that their social skills have gradually eroded.
"I have many friends online, but to be honest, I have also lost quite a few of my regular friends from my daily life," Trang admits.
Another smartphone addict, Nguyen Huy Quang, is facing health problems since he started surfing the Internet and chatting with friends on his iPad every night before going to bed. It often takes Quang a while to lull himself to sleep after turning off his iPad, which typically makes him feel tired the next morning. In addition, the poor posture he adopts while using his tablet has given him back and neck aches.
This problem is not restricted to Viet Nam. Nomophobia has become a significant problem for many Asian countries, especially those with advanced technology, such as Singapore and South Korea .
A special programme, called "Education on the scientific use of mobile phones" has just been launched in South Korea. The schools participating in the programme will set up a bank of mobile phone lockers, where students will voluntarily place their phones, preventing them from using the phones during class.
Korean teachers have also utilised applications such as ismartKeeper to lock their students' mobile phones or shut down their access to social networks, allowing only emergency calls or access to educational programmes on the campus.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, two consulting centres, National Addictions Management Services and Touch Community Services, offer support and treatment to smartphone addicts.
According to psychologist Tam, in order to have a balanced life, mobile phone users should know how to use the instrument properly, especially by moderating their time spent on social networks to ensure that relationships with those around them do not suffer and that they have the time to concentrate on their work.
Although programmes and centres like those in South Korea and Singapore are not available in Viet Nam, many Vietnamese addicts have found their own way to fight against nomophobia.
"I have won the battle against the smartphone, my rival," says Nam. "It is very simple. I just tell my girlfriend that I want to share a private moment with her, and if she is not expecting any important calls or messages, I ask her to turn off her phone or put it in silent mode. My girlfriend is willing to do so."
After discovering the source of his lethargy and back aches, Quang has found his own solution too.
"I have just installed a very interesting programme on my iPad, called ‘Freedom', which controls the amount of time I spend on the iPad. Needless to say, I now sleep much better, focus on my work, and all my aches have disappeared.
"It might be difficult at first because 'rehabilitation' largely depends on the awareness of the individual. But as soon as addicts realise the negative aspects of abusing high-tech devices and start to spend more time with friends and family as well as on other healthy activities such as playing football or reading books, they will certainly put their smartphones aside," Quang adds. — VNS