Me and My Smartphone–A Love Affair

How attached are you to your iPhone, Blackberry or Droid? The smartphone has evolved into more than a high-tech gadget. People love their phones. Recently, a successful and highly educated adult told me that she “couldn’t live” without her iPhone, which she then called “one of my best friends.” When people misplace these devices, they feel an intense panic that far outweighs the distress of losing a set of keys or even a wallet. They experience abandonment. How will they survive without their handheld computer?

When you think about it, smartphones are capable of satisfying our basic needs for companionship through the newsfeeds and photos of social media. The smartphone delivers security — who hasn’t breathed a sigh of relieve that the GPS can lead us by the hand where we need to go? The tiny screen — or the larger one on a home computer — can satisfy sexual needs, through pornography. It helps locate food when we’re hungry. It tells us when to wake up and lulls us to sleep at night with soothing music, a white noise app or a downloaded novel or movie.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Intense bonding to an object is not only necessary but an important phase of human development — if you’re a young child. Remember the “blankie” that Linus drags behind him or the stuffed animal you couldn’t live without? As any parent will tell you, pandemonium ensues if a child’s comfort object, as we therapists call it, is left at home in a car trip or forgotten on the seat of an airplane. And a child experiences loss and sadness. Comfort objects help ease the emotional sting of separation as a child grows independent from Mom.

So, there’s a template in the human for bonding with objects and taking comfort in them. Remember the “pet rock”? When the constant companion is a cell phone, one that can speak and guide us, there’s a human impulse to take comfort in it and even to grow to love it at the risk preferring it at times to actual relationships. It’s our high-tech blankie, and it speaks to the Linus in us all. But by endowing our smartphones with the characteristics of human interaction, we are being lulled into false security–it cannot replicate what we receive from another human being.

More posts about relationships:
Learning from Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin: The Post-Scandal Playbook (April 24, 2013)
Working Families (March 5, 2013)
New Year, New Sex (January 10, 2013)
Till Tweet Do Us Part (December 10, 2013)
Does Couples Therapy Work? (March 21, 2012)
Marital Pre Nup (February 8, 2012)
What makes a marriage viable—or not? In a word: trust. (February 6, 2012)