'Nomophobia' ... Today's Lesson: Would You Give Up Your Mobile Phone for a Week?

May 9, 2018

Corrine Murphy in her classroom in Londonderry.
Credit Peter Biello/NHPR

On a recent morning at Londonderry Senior High School, students filed into Corrine Murphy's mass media class. 

"Good morning, Ms. Murphy."

"What," she laughed, "Ms. Murphy?"

These seniors are showing off a little bit for the microphone. They usually call her something less formal, like Murph. She's friendly with her students in part because she regularly talks to them about something close to their hearts: Social media.

Most of the students were about 3 years old when Facebook launched, about 6 for Twitter. And now these digital natives are becoming adults who use multiple social media platforms and stay close to their phones at all times. So close, in fact, that today Murphy is trying to get them to identify just how important their phones are to them.

"Would you rather give up your day off Saturday. Would you give up Saturday or ..."

"No, no, no," students respond.

"So, one week. No phone all week, but you keep your Saturday?"

The students laugh. A few are quick to say they'd give up Saturday.

Today's lesson is on nomophobia, or the fear of being without a mobile phone. They've also studied the structure of the Internet and the dark web, privacy, and messaging. Classes like this one are not common but they are cropping up here and there as calls for their necessity grow louder. Corrine Murphy says students need to know how the information they share about themselves through social media appears on the Internet.

"The first day in class I usually take a volunteer that's of age, of 18, and google them and I show them exactly how their information is out there and it's very eye opening for a lot of them."

Murphy says a lot of students lockdown the privacy of their accounts once they are aware of what's publicly available. And she says kids need to know how to be responsible users of social media.

"I want them to read the terms and conditions. I want them to understand that they're giving up things like their voice, they're giving up things like their fingerprint. They really need to think about why they're doing those things, and is it just a convenience and if they're willing to do that, then again it's on us."

Below, All Things Considered host Peter Biello interviewed Murphy about educating young people about pros and cons of mass media, specifically social media.  

Today in class you talked a little bit about nomophobia, the fear of going without one's mobile phone. Talk a little bit about that and also the mental health aspect of this course because the way we use our phones does impact our mental health.

Nomophobia. I mean it impacts between 60 and 70 percent of users. And the fact that it is being proposed to be put into the DSM manual because of the health components, whether it be the actual components of our spine, the lights that affect our melatonin production, with affecting our sleep. There's still concerns whether or not the radiation is impacting our brains. And I think that, again for us to be aware of the impacts, and how that could affect us personally, will then make us better understand how we're doing things. Why we can't concentrate on things. Why, you know, executive functioning processes are much more difficult for us at times, because we're we're constantly trying to engage with our phones. 

They said that it takes about 23 minutes to get back on task after checking an e-mail or text. So that's going to impact how we how we work, how we engage in our life."

What type of questions or, maybe category of concerns, do you hear most often from students about the way they or their peers use social media?

"The photography. Photos, how they are, again putting their identity out there. That was something that we talked about regarding colleges and workplaces and how they actually look up and see your socials. So their identity is put out through the photos. And not only is that a representation of who they are, they are then concerned whether they're good enough and how that impacts, you know, their their well-being, their self-esteem and what what the photos that they're putting out, whether they're liked, whether they're retweeted. That definitely impacts how they see themselves. 

What do you hope these students take with them after they leave this class?

Every message has an intent behind it. How do we interpret that, and what do we use that for? I think that that's something you know just constantly questioning what we're doing and why we're doing it. I think is if I can just make them think, that's a huge huge aspect."