BlackBerry Causes Phantom Vibrations? YES. Don't Forget the Phantom Rings and Phantom LEDs too!

By Kevin Michaluk on 11 Oct 2007 09:06 am EDT

The Associated Press published a story yesterday on BlackBerrys and Phantom Vibrations. What's a Phantom Vibration? Basically you feel a vibration on your hip or wherever you normally wear your BlackBerry, but in actuality it's all in your head - the phone is not vibrating (in some cases the BlackBerry is not even close to you!).

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.

The author of the article, Ellen Simon, actually contacted me a couple of weeks ago in doing research for this article and we had a good chat on the topic (I guess my quotes made the cutting room floor :-)). My take was that OF COURSE people experience Phantom Vibrations... I've been getting them since my first cell phone (Motorola StarTac Analog) and that it's not just a BlackBerry thing. But in addition to the Phantom Vibrations, I also hear Phantom Ringtones (I'm always hearing my BlackBerry ring, even when its not), and more critically and more specific to the BlackBerry itself, I also get Phantom LED Syndrome. During the day when I'm by the computer my BlackBerry is sitting on my desk, and out of the corner of my eye I always think I see the darn LED blinking red with a message -- sometimes it is and a lot of times its not - so I'm constantly, constantly reaching for my BlackBerry. More than anything, I think Phantom LED Syndrome is what puts the 'crack' into CrackBerry.

Phantom Vibrations, Ringtones, and LEDs haunting you? Let us KNOW! 

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Topics: Editorial

Reader comments

BlackBerry Causes Phantom Vibrations? YES. Don't Forget the Phantom Rings and Phantom LEDs too!


I believe 'phantom' vibrates, etc, happen when you've had a task, calendar item or reminder set, and you change the reminder time.

I believe for whatever reason, it remembers the ORIGINAL reminder time, and thus vibrates, etc, etc...

Even when I didn't have a blackberry(never again) and had a nother model, I swear my phone was ringing, reach for it, and no calls were there. Same with virbrations, just the anticipation of calls or whatever. It's happened while I'm just walking around, having coffee, etc.

I've gotten very dependant on my phone; if I don't have it, I start to worry about important calls, texts, emails, etc., that I'm missing, I don't know what time it is(since I rely on my phone as my watch), and I get anxious.

I honestly can't live without one. I'd probably have a nervous breakdown if I didn't. :-(

In addition the phantom limb phenomenon, there is the schizophrenic explanation. It is not uncommon for people with schizophrenia to feel, hear, and see things that are not there. Most people think of these symptoms in their most extreme form but most schizophrenics operate just fine in the world. In fact, a recent study by the American Psychological Association found that schizophrenics tend to occupy the highest positions at large corporations because of their charisma and novel approach to problem solving.

Since many Blackberry users are also executives, it may be that this phenomenon is exposing a tendency for this demographic towards psychopathology. After all, we haven't heard feedback like this from users of cell phones and other PDAs - Blackberry doesn't have a monopoly on vibrate mode.

For what it's worth, about four months ago, I wrote a song for my band, Hold For Swank, called "Fake Vibrations," about this very topic. We performed it live on the radio and put the recording on our MySpace account, which is if you want to get the pop-rock take on the situation. We're a bunch of nerds.

I can attest this is no joke. I've felt the vibes and couldn't quite place it. I really thought my BB was vibrating. This is so weird and true!

I would certainly agree, it may seem silly, but I have had some occurrences, more and more frequently regarding this matter, strange though how I sometimes feel quite alert and suddenly i sense that i need to reach for my phone but there is no incoming call or message yet I feel that i felt a vibration. Could it be more frequently attached to the emotion of expecting a call from someone?