It’s the little things. Phantom cellphone syndrome is something I’ve experienced for years. I’ll be convinced that my phone is vibrating, even though it isn’t. Or I’ll be in a noisy environment – showering or using a hairdryer, say – and swear that I can make out the ringing of my phone.
Usually called phantom vibration syndrome, it’s a common phenomenon. (So common, in fact, that Australia’s dictionary authority selected it as their word of the year in 2012.) You think you’re hearing your phone ring or feeling it vibrate, and it turns out you imagined it. Scientists aren’t sure why it happens, though they speculate that it’s linked to the intense and immediate connection we have with our cellphones. One expert thinks it might be a form of pareidolia, where the brain interprets random signals as patterns.
In his thesis research, he found the two biggest predictors of phantom vibrations and ringing were age (young people experienced them more) and the extent to which people relied on their phone to regulate their emotional state—checking their phone when they wanted to calm down, for example, or get an emotional boost.
Here’s what’s interesting. I still experience phantom vibrations every now and then. But now, when I shower or use the hairdryer, I don’t hear a cellphone. I hear a baby crying.