Phantom Ring Syndrome

This post is a continuation of our series based on a TED talk delivered MIT professor Dr. Sherry Turkle that was posted on Scott Elliot’s blog, Resurrected Living. For the full video, go here.

Back in my college days I worked for the new pain management clinic in Wichita Falls as a tech and the “do everything” guy. I remember one of my jobs was to put out the freshly printed brochures. As I was reading the different services offered, one treatment plan jumped off the page: phantom limb pain. Having never lost a limb myself, I had no idea what this meant. This is how WebMD defines phantom limb pain syndrome.

So if I understand this correctly, when the limb is severed from the body, the brain still operates and assumes the limb is still there. Even though there is no possiblilty of the original limb being re-attatched, the body longs for what it lost-even to the point of fooling itself that the limb still exists.

This is fascinating stuff.

I haven’t thought about this syndrome much until I watched the Shelly Turkle TED talk (which we are discussing the entire week) and she mentioned this:

We have all done this, I am sure. While walking around or in a noisy place we either feel or phone vibrate or hear (or think we hear) a similar ringtone to our own. So, we immediately grasp for our phones to see if we have someone trying to contact us.

And, this is a real thing. The phenomina is called several things from what I can tell: ringxiety, phantom ring syndrome, phantom vibration syndrome. Researchers call it a “psycho-acoustic phenomenon” where the brain is triggered by sounds between 1,000 to 6,000 hertz. To put this into context, it is around the same range as a baby cry. For more on this check out these articles from the UK Guardian, USA Today, and NY Times.

There is so much to discuss about this idea, and I am sure we will continue to delve into the ideas as we move forward. But, I will start with a few thoughts:

1. As Allen discussed yesterday, the internet and cellular technology is still very young. Yet, it has become so quickly enmeshed into our daily lives that it causes our brains to react as if a limb was removed in its absense.

If I am reading this correctly, our brain is being fooled and neural pathways are being rerouted around something that has only been around about twenty years.

If you don’t believe that technology has power, you aren’t paying attention.

2. This also tells us something about our deep desire for connection. Our longing to be heard, loved, desired, and known will drive us to seek companionship in any way we can find it. Our cell phones create the illusion that we are better connected than ever-even to the point where we cannot tell where we end and our cell phone begins.

So, share your story with us. Have you ever fallen victim to the phantom ring syndrome? What is your reaction to this stuff?

4 thoughts on “Phantom Ring Syndrome

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