Thursday, December 4, 2008

Phantom vibrations shake 'crackberry' addicts / Is it your leg or your cell phone?

Phantom vibrations shake 'crackberry' addicts

NEW YORK (AP) -- If your hipbone is connected to your BlackBerry or your thighbone is connected to your cell phone, those vibrations you're feeling in the car, in your pajamas, in the shower, may be coming from your headbone.

Cell phone users are reporting feeling vibrations even when their phones aren't ringing.

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."

Zaback, who said he keeps his BlackBerry by his bed while he sleeps, checks it if he gets up in the middle of the night and wakes to an alarm on the BlackBerry each day, said this didn't worry him.

"As long as it doesn't mean a tumor is growing on my leg because of my BlackBerry, I'm fine with it," he said. "Some people have biological clocks, I might have a biological BlackBerry."

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."

"Even when I don't have the BlackBerry physically on my person, I do find myself adjusting my posture when I sit to accommodate it," said Dawn Mena, an independent technology consultant based in Thousand Oaks, California. "I also laugh at myself as I reach to unclip it (I swear it's there) and find out I don't even have it on."

Research in the area is scant, but 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," he said. "Our brain is going to be scanning and scanning and scanning to see if we have to respond socially to someone."

In certain circles, phantom vibrations are a point of pride.

"Of course I get them," said Fred Wilson, a managing partner of Union Square Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm based in New York. "I've been getting them for over 10 years since I started with the pager-style BlackBerry."

For others, it's one more tech irritation.

Jeff Posner, president and owner of in New Jersey, which allows users to register and check in for trade shows and other events, stopped wearing his BlackBerry on his belt because of regular false alarms. He put it in the chest pocket of his shirt but found that was worse, because now his phone dials automatically, which has created a new annoyance: It always calls the same person, he said.

"Phones have favorite friends," he said. "It's like your phones have a thing for each other. Of course, it's a female friend, so my wife is like, 'You're calling her all the time."'

Complicating things further, his own phone is his sales manager's favorite friend.

"Her phone calls me all the time," he said. "I'll get a call and hear whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It's her, walking."

"Dilbert" cartoonist Scott Adams wrote on his blog,, that he feels the phantom vibrations, "about 10 times per day" and thinks "'Ooh, it's an e-mail with good news!' So far, the only good news is that my pocket is vibrating, and that's OK because it gives me hope that the condition might spread to the rest of my pants."

Jake Ward, a former press secretary for Sen. Olympia Snowe and current director of Qorvis Communications Inc., a public relations company in Washington, D.C., said he switched his BlackBerry from his hip to his jacket pocket six months ago, but still feels it there.

"Aftershocks," he said.

He also claims 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."

For some, it's a matter of projecting hope onto their wireless device. Don Katz said he came out of retirement to work as director of wireline product management at SpinVox Inc. because he was so impressed with the company's voicemail product. He worked on its recent launch at SaskTel, the telecom company in Saskatchewan, Canada. That may be why, on a recent train trip to New York, he kept checking his phone, because he said he was sure it was vibrating.

"It's like, my phone should be ringing," he said. "It's anticipatory vibrations."


Who's calling? Is it your leg or your cell phone?

If you have a cell phone, this may have happened to you.

Your cell phone is set to vibrate, and you feel something pulsate in your pocket. You pull out the phone only to find no one is calling you.

As mobile phones have infiltrated American pockets as deeply as car keys and spare change, many users find that not only do the devices keep them in touch with friends and family, they also seem to play tricks on the mind.

No one knows why this happens, but theories abound.

Erin Hall, a 29-year-old from Boise, Idaho, has experienced phantom cell phone vibrations and says they usually happen when she is awaiting an important call. For instance, when her sister was expecting a baby, she said phantom phone calls happened daily. Hall hypothesizes that most incidents occur when people experience a new crush or a problem with a lover.

"I think the phantom ring can all be tied into your love life or lack thereof," said Hall, a performer who blends cello playing and comedy.

Others link the phenomenon to the rhythms of urban life. Scott Harlan, a UPS store manager from Brooklyn, experiences phantom vibes once every couple of days in New York. He blames them on rumblings from traffic or the subway but wonders if his own thoughts have something to do with it.

"I secretly want it to ring," he said.

Jack Davis, a 37-year-old musician from Hawaii, agreed. "You're getting sensations at all times from all kinds of sources," Davis said. "It's hard for the subconscious to distinguish" between cell phone vibrations and vibrations from other sources, like jackhammers or car stereos.

Since no studies have looked into this phenomenon, explanations are not always grounded in hard science.

Martin Conaghan, a cell phone user in Glasgow, Scotland, thinks that phantom vibrations are psychosomatic.

"When your phone actually does vibrate, you get a bit of a startle every time, until you get used to it; so perhaps your brain starts anticipating a vibration, so that you don't get startled (and embarrassed in public) when one arrives," Conaghan wrote in an e-mail message.

He equated phantom phone vibrations to a phenomenon he called "vibroglaze," when a person's eyes glaze over as their attention moves from a conversation with the person in front of them to a vibrating cell phone.

Conaghan thinks the phantom vibrations are a natural reaction that one might have to any foreign object that becomes part of everyday life. When Conaghan got married, he said, the thumb on his left hand twitched for several weeks because his hand was not used to the weight of the ring.

Spokespeople from Cellular and T-Mobile said they have never heard of the phenomenon, but Christine Rosen, senior editor of "The New Atlantis," a journal of technology and society, speculated that phantom cell phone vibrations, or PCVs, are psychosomatic.

"Cell phone users talk about the reassurance of being constantly connected," Rosen said. "It signals to everyone around you that you're part of another community. So you're not just a stranger in a public space, but you're a person who's in demand and who can demand the attention of someone else."

David Laramie, a doctoral student at the California School of Professional Psychology, is writing his dissertation on behavioral effects of cell phone use. He noted that phantom vibrations are related to phantom ringing. If your cell phone ring is similar to a prominent pitch heard in everyday life, you will experience the phantom ring more often, he said.

"Your brain will hear the first note in the outside world and fill in the rest of the sequence mentally," Laramie said. He said the same is probably true with the phantom vibration. "If my belt rubs up against the table, a lot of times there is a trigger" that makes him think his cell phone is vibrating.

Whatever the reason, electronic vibrations, real or unreal, have become part of modern life. They fake out Hall, the comedic cellist, about once every two days. Talking about her phone during a late-night happy hour made her wistful.

"I would love my phone to be ringing all the time, and I hate to admit that," said Hall. "The phantom phone call is one of those hidden desires that we would all love to see come true."