It can happen anywhere: when you're driving to work or sat at home on your laptop. I've even heard reports of people experiencing it while they sleep. You feel that familiar bzzt-bzzt – a moment of excitement. You check your phone. There's nothing there. No email, no WhatsApp, nada. Disappointment sets in. You begin to question your sanity. What's going on?
If you ever thought you were alone in this, or losing your mind, then fear not. The condition has a name: phantom vibration syndrome. This is when you feel your phone vibrating when it actually isn't. In one study, 68 percent of participants reported experiencing phantom vibrations at least once a week.
Our bodies constantly experience meaningless tingles and sensations, but our brains tune them out: this is called habituation. It's the reason we're not constantly aware of our clothes rubbing against our skin, for example.
But now we live in a world of hyper-connectivity, making us constantly anxious about the next message or alert. It seems smartphones have rewired our brains in a small way, making us more aware of sensations in areas of our bodies that our smartphones are regularly in contact with.
In a sense, we might have disabled our brain's ad-blocker, making it believe certain meaningless sensations are actually our phone trying to get our attention, or hoping that's the case.
I often experience the other paranoia of the habitual smartphone user: the phantom notification. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a blue or green light at the top of my phone. I quickly turn to give it my full attention, waiting for the light to blink again. It doesn't. I pick up my phone, anyway: nothing. My brain is on constant alert for notifications, believing every reflection that catches my phone is a promise of communication, but most of the time it's nothing.
Some recommendations for sufferers: take your phone off vibrate and try keeping it in a different pocket. If phantom notifications are your affliction, simply keep your phone out of sight or turn it face down. Over time, you might be able to return your brain to blissful ignorance. Maybe.
Do you suffer from phantom vibration syndrome? What have you tried to beat the affliction? Share your tips with other sufferers in the comments.