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My digital self

When your smartphone becomes your identity


My digital self
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Did you wear your favorite green shirt or the blue one to the family reunion two years ago? Don’t remember? Smartphone users can likely find the answer with a quick tap to access their stored photos. But new research indicates people who rely too much on smartphones for preserving memories may experience smartphone separation anxiety.

“Nomophobia” (short for no-mobile-phone phobia) is a recent pop psychology term describing the fear of being without one’s smartphone. In one British survey, 51 percent of respondents admitted to feeling “extreme tech anxiety” when separated from their smartphones, tablets, or other devices.

Nomophobia is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it’s getting attention in academic circles. A new study, published in the July issue of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, suggests one reason so many people experience separation anxiety when away from their smartphones is because they see the devices as an extension of themselves.

The researchers surveyed 301 adults, ages 18 to 37 years. They found that participants who extensively used their phones to store, share, and access personal memories—a psychological component strongly tied to a sense of self—also experienced the greatest degree of nomophobia.

Memories stored in a smartphone as pictures or notes are often more readily accessible and accurate than those stored in the brain. When people repeatedly use smartphones to evoke memories, they can begin to view the phones as an extension of themselves, the researchers concluded. That in turn causes people to feel a loss of identity when the phones are not within easy reach, they wrote.



Hope for hair

Hair loss affects approximately 56 million Americans, who spend $1.9 billion annually on treatment. Standard treatment includes medication or surgery, but hair loss sufferers must use medications indefinitely to maintain any benefits, and surgery is potentially painful and carries risks of scarring and infection.

Research published in Nature Cell Biology in August explores new medications that could treat hair loss by activating hair follicle stem cells. The stem cells, normally dormant, quickly activate during a cycle of new hair growth. If they fail to activate, hair loss occurs.

By blocking naturally produced lactate, researchers found they could prevent hair follicle stem cell activation in mice. On the other hand, when they increased lactate production, stem cell activation accelerated and increased the hair growth cycle.

The researchers identified two topical drugs that increased lactate production and stimulated hair follicle stem cells. The medications have not yet been tested in humans or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But study co-author William Lowry told me the drugs could provide an effective hair growth treatment requiring only a one-time series of applications—not indefinite use. —J.B.


Antarctica Michael Studinger/NASA

Frozen fire

British scientists have discovered nearly 100 previously unidentified volcanoes—some over 12,000 feet tall—lurking beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet.

The researchers weren’t able to determine if any of the volcanoes are active. But they warned that if one erupts it could have a destabilizing effect on the region’s ice sheets. Meltwater flowing into the Antarctic Ocean could result in a problematic sea level rise.

Knowledge of volcanic activity in the area is limited due to the difficulty of gathering data in the harsh terrain: Some of the volcanoes are buried in ice more than 2 miles thick. The scientists reported their findings in Geological Society Special Publications. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.


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