Phantom Pocket Vibrations: Real or Not Real?

I realize it's entirely possible you have no idea what the subject of this post even means.  That's fair and could indicate that you'll think it a bit ridiculous, but I'm gonna press on anyway.  This is definitely a "thing" that exists in the world and I'm really interested to know if you experience it yourself.

What am I talking about?

Great question!  I'm referring to the phenomenon of feeling a vibration similar to that of a cell phone when in fact none is occurring.  I personally notice it more and more all the time.  Since cell phones haven't really been around that long I tend to assume I have had one about as long as anyone, save the obscenely wealthy.  I've certainly had one longer than most of the people I know directly.  

Don Jon singing Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch

So is it real?

Apparently, yes.  After doing a little research into this, I was able to locate several mentions about this issue.  It seems that Pocket Vibration Syndrome may be the accepted title of this "condition" and there apparently have been several significant scientific studies conducted in this arena.  That makes me at least feel like maybe I'm not completely crazy.  Then again the condition itself is widely regarded as a "rewiring" of the brain's circuitry with multiple sources using the following example:

What we may have interpreted as an itch needing to be scratched 10 years ago, we now interpret as a possibly missed opportunity to communicate with the outside/online world.  The physical stimulus and cause (a firing of neurons near the "phone pocket" area) has not necessarily changed, but due to pressures of an "always on" society our interpretation of them has.  Instead of just scratching an itch, we now check our phones when this happens, interpreting this itch as a notification not to be missed.  (paraphrased from multiple sources)
Mark Walhberg as "Marky Mark" in the video for Good Vibrations

Are we all going crazy?

Nah...well maybe.  Most of what I have read about this condition indicates it is something that is more recently prevalent.  While first jokingly mentioned in comics around 1996 in reference to feeling a false pager vibration (for those too young to remember, this is a pager), it seems the first official reference to Phantom Vibration Syndrome was back in 2003 with significant study coming only within the last 5-7 years.  In those studies it is apparent that nearly everyone who regularly uses a cell phone experiences these phantom sensations with varying levels of frequency; some weekly and some monthly.  

I've noticed them myself multiple times each week over the last several months.  One of the more interesting, although perhaps expected conclusions reached in these studies is that those who are more obsessive about checking their phones or who tend to receive a high volume of messages, calls and/or notifications tend to succumb to this more often.

Check out the source post here / via

Check out the source post here / via

Why is it creepy?

I find this condition super creepy.  I know that's not a technical term, but consider it in terms of how important (perceived or real) our devices have become to us.  They are so important to us now that we experience what could be described as the equivalent of a "phantom limb" when they are not actually alerting us of something.  So our bodies and brains now react to the absence of mobile notifications in way similar to that of phantom pain or sensation an amputee might experience after having lost an actual part of their body.  Creepy.

Does this happen to you frequently?  What are your thoughts on this weird phenomenon?  Share in the comments!

Main image courtesy of Martin Abegglen under Share Alike license

Sources:, and Wikipedia