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Smart Phones, Stupid Choices and Alone Together

john-kane-i-had-an-epiphany-new-yorker-cartoon1 (2)It’s one of the most pervasive issues in our culture today that’s off and on in the media, but no one talks about in their personal lives – our relationships with our phones.

Not long ago author Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs wrote a blog that really caught my eye. He essentially made the argument that our addictive behaviors are driven more from loneliness or a longing to bond and connect than anything else.

Larry Rosen, Professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us has studied our relationships with our phones and shows that our compulsions with our phones are a result of anxiety that we are missing out on something.
However, our phones are also inherently devices that have intermittent reinforcement so in some degree they work like the addictive slot machines.

We are living in an age that is more connected than ever, but also seems to be less intimate than ever. People lives are more public and so in some way the intimacy gets diluted and therefore less potent. We are looking into each other’s less and making physical contact less.

The lonelier and less intimate we feel life is, the more we long for it, so the more we turn to our devices as an addictive path toward connection.

More and more these days people are finding themselves checking their devices during any time they are alone. If you’re eating alone you’ll check it, if you’re waiting in a checkout line, you’ll check it, if you’re walking on the way to the bathroom, you’ll check it and if you’re in the car alone, you’ll check it (even though the stats show an increase in fatality rates).

Sherry Turkle is an MIT Professor who wrote, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, arguing that even when we’re in social situations, we turn to our devices, breaking the intimacy of the real world situations to opt for connecting to our devices.

But the interesting thing is that while many people recognize that it’s a problem, very few people talk about it in their personal lives.


Because we don’t talk about our most personal relationships in public and our Smartphones are turning into our most intimate relationships and our human relationships are becoming less intimate so we can go public with them.

That is something very deep to contemplate.

This is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater (hopefully the most defensive have made it this far), our phones are obviously wonderful in so many ways, I’m a huge fan. But it’s important to take an honest inquiry asking how they impact us in healthy and unhealthy ways. In this post I’m making the argument that we’re part of a snowball that is increasing in momentum that is making us feel more Alone Together as Turkle says and this aloneness reinforces our evolutionary need for connection and belonging. To go along with Johann Hari’s theory, we then turn to our substance for this (in this case the phone)…and the cycle continues.

Like other addictive behaviors, many people don’t want to admit that this is problem, something which they’ve tried to control, but they’ve been unable to. In other words, there’s an element of shame in this.

What we’re really wanting (and needing) is intimacy with one another in our relationships, with our kids and friends. When it comes to this powerful relationship, can we accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can and have the wisdom to know the difference?

This is worth a larger discussion, the more people talk about it, the greater the awareness can become and with awareness comes the strength and choice to live as if it mattered.

What do you say?

Smart Phones, Stupid Choices and Alone Together

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is creator of the six month online program A Course in Mindful Living, author of the book Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind, the premier eCourse Basics of Mindfulness Meditation: A 28 Day Program, the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments and a Weekly Newsletter. Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.

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APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2015). Smart Phones, Stupid Choices and Alone Together. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Jul 2015
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