In the recent update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a new illness was entered, "Telephobia", more colloquially known as "Fear of Phone" - or, FOP, for short. This is a very dibillitating condition, which afflicts the techno-savvy youth of today. Despite initial skepticism, it is a very serious illness that can lead to depression and, worse, a lack of connectivity.
I first developed FOP at my new job. I had been forced to take a position in a department called, "customer care" for a large retailer. It was a large room full of cubicles with people sitting in front of dumb-phones. Apparently, these used to be commonplace once upon a time, and there were still older customers of the company that preferred to speak to someone rather than use the Website.
Frankly, I thought the whole thing was a joke. I mean, why in the world would people want to waste their time talking to a person when they could do everything by machine? There's an app for that, duh! It reminded me of my mother, who was the only other person I know who used conversation. I tried to get her to text, instead of conversing, but it was a lost cause. She had a habit of making long-winded, uninvited conversation, whereas I preferred to keep my correspondence crisp and to the point. That's the beauty of texting, isn't it? No non sequiturs, observations about the weather, or unnecessary personal information. But, she just didn't get it. Eventually, I got her to settle on email, so we didn't have to spend excess time together. She still wrote ridiculously long sentences, though.
At the customer care centre, you had to sit and wait for the phone to make a sound, which seemed like a stupid thing to do. I couldn't even check the social profile of the person on the other end beforehand, so I had no idea who I was dealing with. The dumb-phone would chirp, I'd pick up, and then I'd have to go back and forth with whomever was on the other end for a few seconds, exchanging names and other innanities until we got to the crux of the matter.This happened every time without exception. Sometimes, I couldn't understand what they were saying. They might have a weird accent, or use long words, or sentences that - if written down - would be longer than 140 characters. It was really exhausting.
The days were long and the whole thing was really wearing me down. I got to the point where I dreaded the sound of the dumb-phone chirping at me. I even began hearing it in my sleep!
The worst thing, though, is that I started to become afraid of my own handheld. The first time someone called me on it, I had no idea what was going on. It was making a sound I'd never heard before and I thought someone had messed around with my alarm settings. When I figured out what was happening, it turned out to be a call from work. I asked them please not to do that again, because it really freaked me out, and to stick to texting. I mean, it was really intrusive. I was doing something at the time when it happened and it was really unnerving and inconvenient. In fact, it was never convenient. Calls like this started coming in from morning till evening and I just couldn't cope with it anymore.
I used to love my handheld. It went with me everywhere, right? But, then, it became this weird, scary thing that might make that horrible sound at any moment. I could be having a pot noodle, watching a Youtube in my jockeys, when it would just go off. Horrible. I started putting it in my bag, instead of walking with it in my palm. Sometimes, I even put it in a drawer.
Because I wasn't using my phone as much, my friends began to forget about me. I was missing out on stuff. I didn't read their status updates, I missed people's pokes, I didn't update my Timeline... it was just a nightmare. I was no longer in the Stream. It was like I was nobody.
I went into a deep spiral of depression. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. My sense of hearing became hypersensitive from the phone calls at work. I didn't shower, because the sound of the water hitting my eardrums really hurt.
I began to feel like a nobody. Mr Cellophane. I felt like I had no choice but to drop off the Grid. Even the people I used to know couldn't remember me anymore,because it had been weeks since we last connected.
Just when things got really bad, I stumbled upon a FOP helpline. They organised an intervention and immediately took me to a digital retreat. Through their care and guidance, they got me back onto my smartphone again. Luckily, it was like riding a bike. Within a few days, I could manage Twitter. By the end of the week, they had me back on Facebook.
I've found a new job that's kept me clean for about two months now. I thank God I found the FOP helpline. Without them, I don't know where I'd be. No, I do know. I'd be back at that horrible customer care centre, watching my life leeched out of me.