“I don’t know what I would do without my phone, it feels like my best friend. It makes me anxious just thinking about having to cope without it…”

Mobile phones, tablets and technology are everywhere. I have always loved my tech and gadgets, and I continue to be known as ‘gadget man’ and ‘Mr Upgrade’ with good reason! The social media and Facebook revolution has expanded the meaning of what we understand by relationships and friendships for all of us. We all are lucky to have friends, mostly in the conventional sense but now ‘friends’ in social media introduces a whole new set of rules and conventions. What are these relationships that we have with friends?  In the world of therapy is there a developing influence of technology on the nature of relationships and do these new definitions change our professional relationships in therapy?

A recent post on welldoing.org focused upon the addiction that we seem to have to our phones and technologies: I want to take this further and view this slightly differently. How does our relationship with this technology - principally our phones - affect our other relationships?

I have no verifiable empirical evidence to offer here. If I can begin with a simple observation. I walk and I cycle everywhere, so in my travelling I am up-close intimate with people. A large number - especially in the park and open spaces that I travel through regularly - are walking with their face seemingly glued to their phone screen. This might be just addiction as suggested earlier, or a basic need to relate to someone right in this moment. My perception is that they are physically present in the town where I live and indeed in the park and the streets; but in reality, in those moments they somewhere else. As I approach I feel their absence in their presence. If I am lucky I may hear a sorry - no eye contact. I think I notice this particularly as I aim to travel wearing my mindfulness hat. Present on my bicycle feeling it carry me, noticing the light, the smells and sounds and especially people and other objects around me. Is this the reality on every street and in every park? Am I the only one to notice it?

I think these observations raise important questions about the quality of our everyday relationships, but as a therapist making these observations some issues and challenges begin to emerge.

The effect of new technologies on relationships in the therapy space deserves our attention. Presence in the therapy relationship and room is vital to its effectiveness. Occasionally or even increasingly I am drawn to wonder if the attachments and relationships I perceive in my clients’ world is more through their technology than human contact. Are we now in a world where we spend more time connecting to each other through the screen rather than face to face. Or even if I may be bold connecting to the screen.

In recent months I have begun to feel that the mobile phone has exploded from its potential status as the elephant in the room to a position of greater dominance. It is almost the invisible therapist and umbilical cord which changes the psycho-dynamics of the therapy. People I see every day in the park glued to their phones come into my therapy room still glued and attached to their phones. In addition to the issues they bring,  maybe - just maybe - this is also exacerbated by the impact of the phone. Increasingly,  it must be visible. The secure ever-present object, within eye sight and hearing. Is it on or off? Being turned off in the room is usually a given. For some of my clients when at home they are thinking about turning their phones off, leaving them in other rooms. 

I feel that people are using their phones as principal vehicles for communication. Intended as enhancements to communication and relationship, are these phones now our principal 'other'? Am I in a relationship with my phone? When I wake up the first thing that I do is to check my phone and the last thing in the day; yes, the same! 

As I said earlier I offer no empirical evidence. Just a few thoughts and reflections. Wait a minute, I just need to check my ph……!

Photo by Zach Meaney