Phone Yawns: The Irresistible Contagion Spread By Just One Person Checking Their Cell

A few weeks back I told you about Phantom Cell Phone Vibration Syndrome, the stupefying first-world problem that us social media addicts suffer from, in which our thighs vibrate where phones usually reside in our pockets. Plenty of friends and commenters chimed in with their stories of this torrid phenomenon ravaging a generation.

Along the way, I caught wind of another social media syndrome: the phone yawn. Much like the regular fatigue-induced tic, a phone yawn is what happens when one person in close quarters checks their cell phone for messages or e-mail and others begin to follow suit. Much like how in certain instances yawning can be contagious. You may be feeling the urge to yawn now. Stop it, your boss may be watching.

I once yawned as an experiment on my NewsFix segment and I heard back that people at home were yawning as well. Okay, it was only my father and two other people who said that, so the jury is still out, and they could have just been being nice and placating me.

The phone yawn was first pointed out on Urban Dictionary, usually the first place in modern society where all good sociological info comes from.

"It's like clockwork. I do it on purpose sometimes in a sadistic, mocking, Pavlovian fashion," says my friend Chris, a local creative director. Once one person checks their phone, it's only a matter of time until the whole group is doing it and sitting in silence, only shattered by stuttering, distracted half-speech.

It could also be construed as boredom with current surroundings and people, too. Everyone knows it's happening, but few will call attention to it. I have walked into bars at the peak of business in the late evening and seen every other person pecking on a smart phone.

Some do it to dissuade conversation and eye contact. For some, like myself, the phone is my constant lunch and dinner date when alone. You aren't really lonely if millions of people are at your fingertips, right? Even still, there is a degree of etiquette when it comes to phone yawns.

"I keep glancing up to see if the other person has put theirs away yet. I've probably been thinking about checking it for a while and waiting for the right moment anyways," says another friend, Jeff, who works in printing.

"As long as they do it first, it's all good," he adds.

Sometimes pulling out the phone is a good way to gauge someone's disinterest in the conversation, too. Which is doubly heartbreaking. But once you become entranced in your phone, you stop caring. The phone in this modern age is like a child's pacifier.

"I do this all of the time. It's as if that by that person pulling out his or her phone, [he or she] has given me permission to check mine," says Melanie, a fellow journalist.

It's hard to come back to having a relevant conversation once the phones are introduced into the equation, though. It's also possible that our necks will slowly evolve downward from all the texting and Web-surfing we do on our phones.

Did you check your phone while reading this blog? Shame on you.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty