Nomophobia: Fear of Being without Your Phone and Having Low-Battery Anxiety

Our lives are becoming increasingly reliant on our cell phones for even the smallest tasks, a low battery warning can trigger deep anxiety.
Marcia Wendorf

You see it in the sweaty faces of fellow travelers at airport departure gates--the furtive glances at walls and pillars, the feigned casual strolls. These are all signs of the same affliction — a modern psychological dysfunction known as 'low-battery anxiety.'

People's lives are now taking place more and more on their devices. All of our contacts, social media, GPS, car services, food ordering, games, video entertainment, banking, calendars, and family photos are now held within our handheld devices.

Increasingly, modern relationships of all kinds are being conducted online rather than in person, and a dead battery can bring up fears of loss or isolation.


Without continuous access to a cellphone in these days and times, people can quickly get irrational and desperate — they swipe others' charging cables, and barge into businesses to immediately plugin.

Get Out
"Get Out." movie trailer. Source: Movieclips Trailer/YouTube

The dead battery trope

In modern horror movies, a dead battery has come to represent a precursor to very bad things happening to a character. Isolating a victim has long been a trope of classic horror movies, such as 1960's Psycho, 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Shining that was released in 1980, all the way up to 2017's Get Out.

The fear of being without one's cellphone has even been given an official name — nomophobia.

The lithium-ion battery technology we are relying on today was developed during the 1970s by English chemist M. Stanley Whittingham while working at Exxon Corporation. The only breakthrough since then has been the lithium-polymer batteries. The distinction between lithium-polymer and lithium-ion batteries exists merely in the kind of electrolyte used.

Lithium-polymer uses a solid polymer electrolyte, such as polyacrylonitrile, and plastic anode material. Lithium-ion uses lithium salt, in an organic solvent, as an electrolyte. Lithium-ion batteries have a nasty tendency to overheat.

There is a sort of arms race going on between battery manufacturers and cellphone manufacturers at present. As soon as battery manufacturers add more capacity, cellphone manufacturers add more power-hungry features. The power demands of cellphone features have actually gone down, but manufacturers have added more of them.

Cellphone companies are addressing our anxiety

Newer cellphones have embedded wireless charging capabilities. The wireless charging industry has coalesced around the Qi standard (pronounced CHEE). It uses an inductive charging system over distances of up to 4 cm (1.6 inches).

The Qi system uses an electromagnetic field to pass a charge between copper coils, and the newest wireless charging pads can charge up to 10w and 15w. Mobile manufacturers who are incorporating the system into their devices include Apple, Asus, Google, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Motorola Mobility, Nokia, Samsung, Blackberry, Xiaomi, and Sony.

There are flat-pad and vertical-stand syles of chargers, and stores such as Starbucks, McDonald's, Costa Coffee, and YO! Sushi offers free wireless charging. The hotel chains Landham Hotels, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, W Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and JW Marriott properties also offer wireless charging.

Wireless charging
Wireless charging. Source: LG전자/Wikimedia Commons

For older phones that do not have built-in wireless charging, you can buy an adapter that plugs into your phone's Micro USB, USB-C or Lightning port. Wireless charging is slower than wired charging, and if using a third-party adapter, it is slowed even further.

The Android Pie operating system (OS) sends users a notification when their battery is getting low rather than just displaying the percentage of battery left. With the iPhone X, Apple has removed the exact battery percentage from beside the battery icon on most screens. You can see the battery percentage in the Control Center.

Both operating systems offer a low-power mode, which dials down the phone's systems in times of low charge.

The cutting edge

In 2018, scientists at Aston University in the UK demonstrated a method for offloading power-hungry parts of apps to the cloud, reducing power consumption by a whopping 60 percent.

The solid-state battery is on the horizon, but it is not quite ready for prime time. It is a higher-capacity, safer alternative to lithium-ion batteries that use solid electrodes and a solid electrolyte instead of the liquid or polymer electrolytes used in lithium-ion or lithium-polymer batteries.