In a bit of a disconcerting study, many mobile phone addicts and BlackBerry junkies report feeling vibrations when there are none, or feeling as if they're wearing a cell phone when they're not. The first time it happened to Jonathan Zaback, a manager at the public relations company Burson-Marsteller, he was out with friends and showing off his new BlackBerry Curve. "While they were looking at it, I felt this vibration on my side. I reached down to grab it and realized there was no BlackBerry there." Some users compare the feeling to a phantom limb, which Merriam-Webster's medical dictionary defines as "an often painful sensation of the presence of a limb that has been amputated." Although research in the area is scant, theories abound about the phenomenon, which has been termed "ringxiety" or "fauxcellarm."
Anecdotal evidence suggests "people feel the phone is part of them" and "they're not whole" without their phones, since the phones connect them to the world, said B.J. Fogg, director of research and design at Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab. "As human beings, we're so tapped into our community, responsiveness to what's going on, we're so attuned to the threat of isolation and rejection, we'd rather make a mistake than miss a call. Our brain is going to be scanning and scanning and scanning to see if we have to respond socially to someone."
Opinion on these phantom vibrations is split. Some, such as Fred Wilson, a managing partner of Union Square Ventures, consider them a point of pride. "Of course I get them," he said. "I've been getting them for over 10 years since I started with the pager-style BlackBerry." On the other side of the spectrum are users like Jeff Posner, president and owner of e-ventsreg.com in New Jersey. He stopped wearing his BlackBerry on his belt because of regular false alarms. And then there is the paranormal, with some users, such as Jake Ward, a former press secretary for Sen. Olympia Snowe and current director of Qorvis Communications Inc., claiming to "pre-feel" a new message or call. "I'll feel it, look at it. It's not vibrating. Then it starts vibrating," he said. "I am one with my BlackBerry."