I thought I was the only one experiencing this: occasionally I feel my mobile phone vibrating in my pocket, and I check my phone...but there are no alerts. Worse still, sometimes my phone isn't even in my pocket to begin with! What’s up with these tactile hallucinations? Am I going crazy? Is my phone determined to make me think I'm going crazy?
Actually, recent studies have shown that impressive numbers of people (ranging from two-thirds to upwards of 90% of people, depending on the sample!) experience so-called phantom phone vibrations. So at least I’m not alone! Nor is this a new phenomenon: the first published use of the term "phantom vibration syndrome" dates back to 2003, and a related phenomenon - "phantom-pager syndrome" - was mentioned as early as 1996 in Scott Adams' "Dilbert" comic strip.
The psychology/neurology of this phenomenon is not yet well understood, but in any event, I think it speaks volumes about our modern relationships with technology. We’re so connected to our mobile devices - and depend so constantly on them - that they start messing with our heads. All of which could perhaps be framed in the broader context of tech obsession or even addiction. See, for example, the book "iDisorder" by psychology professor Larry Rosen, which discusses (among many other things) phantom phone vibrations.
"What happens, I think, is that because your clothes are rubbing against your skin, you cause activity in the same receptors, and that activity is just similar enough to the activity caused by a vibrating phone that it triggers the learned association and the perception of a vibrating phone,” he said. It’s not clear exactly where in the brain that occurs, Bensmaia says, but it probably involves the primary somatosensory cortex and other higher-level areas that process the sense of touch."