Controlling nomophobia

TO PEOPLE with phobias, aeroplanes are hell. In our everyday comings and goings we are seldom faced to deal with more that a single fear at a time.

But on a plane you can experience fear of heights, confined spaces, other people, agoraphobia (no, not rabbits - it's the fear of being in places from which escape might be embarrassing or difficult, or in which help might be unavailable) and countless others, all in one place.

For sufferers of nomophobia, however, aeroplanes are slowly becoming more accommodating.

Nomophobia is the clinically recognised fear of being out of cellphone contact. I personally find travelling out of cellular coverage areas a liberating experience - but to the nomophobe, being out of touch is scary stuff.

We usually pity people with fears like claustrophobia or coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. But nomophobes are different - they aren't pitiful as much as bothersome. That guy with the beeping phone in the cinema? Nomophobe. And what used to attract klaps from strangers now attracts fascination from psychologists.

But back to aeroplanes.

It wasn't long after the invention of the cellphone that it was decided it would be a bad idea to switch one on inflight, despite the fact that it is almost impossible for a cellphone to interfere with anything on a plane except other passengers' sleep.

Cellphones operate on radio frequencies within an entirely different range to anything on an aeroplane, including its communications systems. If it really were possible for cellphones to crash a plane you wouldn't be allowed to take them on board, along with the water, nail files and other harmless items that have been deemed deadly in our nannying society.

But even if you could turn your phone on during a flight on a commercial airliner, you wouldn't be able to use it for technical reasons. You wouldn't have coverage from your cellphone network for one, and even if you did you would be flying over the cellular towers too quickly to maintain a connection.

For normal people this made flying a fantastic experience. You were untouchable in the air. Nobody could email you or pester you with phone calls. You had an entirely legitimate excuse for being offline and out of reach. And it was about the last place on earth where that was true any more.

But now airlines are rapidly deploying technology to make internet communications possible on planes. And they're taking it one step further, with the testing of inflight GSM stations that would make it possible for you to use your cellphone.

This is troublesome news. I appeal to you to ask any deity you happen to believe in to prevent this progression. For a geek like me, asking for the progress of technology to be halted is a radical step - but in this case I must insist.

I don't care how convenient it is - I don't want that guy who was sleeping on me 15 minutes ago to now be able to keep me awake by conversing with his girlfriend. I want him and his nomophobic friends to continue to be forced out of cellular range while on an aeroplane, even if there is no good scientific reason for it.

I can only hope sense prevails and the airlines stop this madness. But for the time being British Airways, among others, is considering implementing cellular connectivity for long-haul flights. It's frightening.


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