When I was a wee middle schooler, my parents had to set a timer to shut down my AOL session after an hour so I wouldn’t be chatting with friends and Googling images of cute animals all night. Probably should have known then.


Or maybe I should have known when I was 15 and my flip phone dropped out of my pocket into a Lakewood High School locker room toilet. And I fished it out. I mean, it was flushed, but have you seen a locker room toilet?


I certainly should have known a few weeks ago when I was at lunch with a friend from college, my iPhone casually placed on the table next to me, as were the phones of many others in the restaurant.


Mid-conversation my friend, subtle as ever, said: “I never have my phone out when I’m with people.” I rolled my eyes at him but put it in my purse. I was itching to check it the entire time, wondering why someone I’d texted earlier had not yet responded. All the while I knew it was a dumb thing to obsess over, but I was anyway.


You see, I was experiencing phantom phone syndrome. Because that rectangular, shiny piece of technology, as I should have seen coming, is now essentially an extra appendage.


Over the years, stealthy tech firms have slowly engineered phones from hunks of bricks into sleek, super-powered computers that fit in your pocket. It was so gradual that most of us never noticed the parasitic symbiosis taking hold. After all, most of the artificial intelligence horror flicks tell us it would take walking, talking robots for technology to take control of our lives.


But then phones got “smart.”


I’m not as bad as some. I don’t typically have it out when I’m with friends (I was having a moment of weakness, OK?) or at parties, and never in a movie theater. And our office is a mostly cell phone-free zone. But at home? Out for a walk? Standing in an elevator, or in line, or as a passenger in a car, or any place at all where I have to wait for anything or my mind has a chance to wander? My first move is to scroll through applications.


I never really understood why people take “social media breaks.” Social media is fun. You get to see what your friends are up to and share a bunch of jokes from the nerdiest corners of the Internet. And when friends comment on or “like” what you post, you get the warm fuzzies. It’s great.


But I’m starting to get why people take these little vacations.


The problem with cell phones is one that stems from the Internet and social media: instant gratification. Or, more accurately, what happens when you don’t receive it.


Millennials, root around back there in your middle school memories. Remember sending someone an instant message or an e-mail and crossing your fingers hoping they would respond before your parents unplugged you?


Now think about texting. At first, no one could do it because it was expensive. But now, not only can you send texts back and forth within seconds, but sometimes you can actually see if the other person has read them. And now, as opposed to ye olden days of the huge battery-block phones, we all know that everyone has their phones with them at all times.


Comedian Aziz Ansari wrote deftly about this in his book about dating in the online era, “Modern Romance.” He recounts a time he texted a woman to ask her out . . . and after three hours with no reply, he started to internally freak out:

“What has happened?! I know she held my words in her hand!!

Did Tanya’s phone fall into a river/trash compactor/volcano?

Did Tanya fall into a river/trash compactor/volcano??”


You get the picture.


So, Millennials, how many times have you sent a text and ended up feeling edgy waiting for a response? And how many times have you felt that way after far fewer than three hours had gone by?


This is nuts.


It used to be that when you wanted to talk to someone, you had to pick up the phone and call them. They would either answer or they wouldn’t. And you would have to wait. Did you get as anxious waiting for them to call you back as you do for someone to text you? Or did you go about your business and watch some Nicktoons?


A recent study by B2X (a company that manages after-sales service of mobile devices for Apple and Microsoft products, among others) based on interviews with 2,600 Millennials in the United States, Brazil, Germany India and Russia found “digital obsession and compulsive use” of smartphones is growing.


According to the executive summary, a quarter of Millennials look at their smartphones more than 100 times a day and “85% keep it in direct reach at all times.”


By contrast, fewer than one-tenth of Baby Boomers look at their phone more than 100 times a day.


The study also had this little nugget of wisdom to offer: “And they have a need for speed. 57% of smartphone users expect friends and family to respond to messages immediately or at least within a few minutes.” What the study doesn’t say is what happens when that expectation is not met. But I think most of us know that.


So what do we do? We still need phones for emergencies. If we go full Ansari, we may not be able to fully break up, but we should at least institute a series of trial separations.


Break the need for instant gratification. You’re not a Pavlov experiment.


It’ll be worth a little phantom phone syndrome.