Cell Phone Junkies
By Carlo Longino, Tue Aug 31 23:45:00 GMT 2004

A study from Korea warns that young people there are showing some distressing habits concerning their mobile phones.

Most concerns about the impact of mobile phones on people's health have focused on radiation, from both handsets and base stations. While there have been some reports of people being addicted to their phones or to text messaging, and there's been a lot of observations on how mobile phones impact people's behavior, there's been little study of their effect on mental health.

The Korean study says nearly a third of the high-school students surveyed showed signs of addiction that bordered on paranoia and two-thirds were "constantly worried" they'd miss a text message when their phone was switched off. One 14-year-old even hallucinated that her phone was ringing when she wasn't carrying it with her, and her text-messaging habits have left her with sore fingers.

These results really aren't very surprising, but reveal a significant danger of an always-connected society -- though the introduction of new technologies throughout the years has seen society, and individual people in it, have to figure out just how to deal, and at times, struggle to cope. Perhaps part of the problem is that while one of text messaging's strengths is its instantaneous and somewhat non-intrusive nature, the expectation of immediate response can be a burden.

While therapy or some other psychological treatment might help the most serious cases, technological innovation can help too. Instant-messaging software on the wired Net features some crude versions of context awareness and sensitivity -- the away message ("I'm busy", "I'm in the shower", "Doing laundry", etc.) -- but given mobile technology's much more pervasive presence in people's lives, it's got to improve further to be of any real use.

E-mail is already getting to the point where it's overwhelming some people, persuading them to quit using it, and some companies are even banning it on certain days of the week. Without new applications to help some people cope, there's a chance the mobile signal could get lost in the noise.