Friday, May 27, 2011

Phantom of the Office

Today I listened to a podcast about "phantom vibrations" -- sensory hallucinations that people experience when they think their cell phone is vibrating, but it is not. If the limited data are to be believed, 70% of cell phone users experience these (but only 2% are bothered by them).

Apparently, we feel these phantom vibrations because our brains are processing so much information all the time and can't deal with it all and because many of us are always on the alert for incoming calls, so we anticipate them all the time.

I commonly feel phantom phone vibrations, but I always thought they were related to the fact that my office is located near some very big machines that have a very big cooling system that generates continuous vibrations that make my entire office vibrate and, because I am constantly exposed to this when in my office, I imagine vibrations even when I am out of my office.

When visitors come to my office and comment on the fact that the room seems to be moving, some ask if I will suffer any long-term neurological effects of having a vibrating office. I don't know, but maybe I will eventually find out. Or maybe the phantom phone vibrations are an early sign? Imagine my relief to find that 70% of cell phone users, most of whom presumably do not have vibrating offices, also feel these sensory hallucinations.

I still wonder, though, if my office is a cause of at least some of the phantom vibrations. I have phantom phone experiences even when I definitely don't have my phone with me (e.g., in the shower), and I do not have them when I have been out of my office for more than a day or so (even if I have my phone with me). I have always thought that the phantom was of my office.

Now I'm not so sure.

Over the years, I have made efforts to improve the working environment of my office. I requested that the peeling lead-based paint be covered with new paint. I tried a series of chairs until I found one that I could comfortably spend a lot of time in. I adjusted various things about desk-chair-keyboard positioning. I have assorted wrist-rests. I have even worked with the research scientist who oversees the big machines and cooling systems that make my office vibrate to see if we could lessen the vibrations, both in the lab and in my office, although these efforts have thus far had only minor results. So, unless I move my office, I think I am stuck with the vibrations, which are very real, and possible other vibrations, which are not. Or maybe I'd sense the latter anyway.

At least now I have some doubt as to whether my office is the culprit.


EliRabett said...

Think of it as a cheap workout, or natures way of telling you to get into the lab more.

Anonymous said...

It could just be persistence - not sure if that's the technical term, I'm not a neuro person. But most people have had the experience of being on an unstable platform, such as a boat or train, for long enough to get used to it...then when you finally get on solid ground, you feel like you're moving. It could be the same thing with the vibrating office.

John Vidale said...

My phantom calls come anywhere and anytime, but then I am alert for phone calls any time, even at night.

I'm surprised as many as 30% don't have them. No doubt phantom rings are as common as vibrations, except it's hard to be sure, as surrounding phones are constantly ringing.

The optimist in me thinks this is ok, because we can see that no one is looking for us with one glance, whereas in the old days, one wondered what dire messages were piling up somewhere.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

"...some [visitors] ask if I will suffer any long-term neurological effects of having a vibrating office."

Words cannot express how much I love this sentence.

Carmelo Fruciano said...

I didn't pay too much attention to this until now but I have to say that, as far as I can recall now, my "phantom vibrations" are more likely when I'm alert for phone calls (or when I'm not really concentrated on doing something important) AND when there is an at least potential external source of vibrations (in the bus/waiting for a bus on a street with traffic mixed of heavier and lighter veicles).

Anonymous said...

ok, wow. I just thought I was crazy. I get those almost every week. I actually will have to get my phone out to see if it was real. Of course, the only people who have my cell phone number are those that would contact me in an emergency, so maybe I need to relax about the likelihood of emergencies?

DGeekChic said...

Interesting..I can't count the number of times I've felt my phone vibrate and seen no alerts on the phone. Nice to know I can still be counted among the 'sane' folk..