Our relationship with technology never ceases to amaze me — mostly in its ability become a substitute for actual relationships. For better or worse, the cell phone has had a clear impact on the way we interact with each other. We think we’ve had a nice chat with a friend when we’ve sent them text messages from the back of a cab or a line for the bathroom. We know what our friends and family are up to because we’ve read the status updates and seen the pictures on their facebook profile. We can now interact with people without having to make any time and without getting to make any memories. It’s all very distant. Our work relationships are similarly affected. Many of us are corresponding with coworkers and clients almost exclusively via email, exchanging information in small blips. We’re all starting to look very drone-like in the unflattering light of our phone’s glow. In the interest of convenience, we’ve made a mobile version of everything and an app to address every portion of our fragmented lives and many serve the distinct purpose of reducing human contact — directions, reservations, information, therapy — therapy?
That’s right, we can finally all manage our mental health via applications on our smart phones. From NPR:
As the computing power of cell phones increases, more and more sophisticated mobile apps are being developed for the mental health field. They’re seen as a way to bridge periodic therapy sessions — a sort of 24-7 mobile therapist that can help with everything from quitting smoking to treating anxiety to detecting relapses in psychotic disorders.
Now, I’m not saying it’s all bad but where are we in terms of real care if we are trusting our doctors with the weighty task of “detecting relapses in psychotic disorders” on the basis of what is essentially a text message? When can we admit we’re giving entirely too much credibility to smart phone apps?
These mobile technologies let users track their moods and experiences, providing a supplemental tool for psychiatrists and psychologists.
“It gives me an additional source of rich information of what the patient’s life is like between sessions,” says University of Pennsylvania researcher Dimitri Perivoliotis, who treats patients with schizophrenia. “It’s almost like an electronic therapist, in a way, or a therapist in your pocket.”
Now, like I said, it’s not all bad. I can see such a thing being useful. Tying our moods to where we are in time and space and recognizing patterns in our own lives is critical. It’s no different than jotting things down in a journal and we can all appreciate having one less thing to carry around. A journal sitting in a drawer at home doesn’t do any good when you’re trying to track your moods in real time. I’m all for it as a way to record information, just not to handle our deeper human problems.
My first thought, however is that this could have the effect of taking huge steps further down the path of distant and unfeeling emotional care. It’s gotten to the point that 15 minute med adjustment visits have replaced real therapy in offices everywhere and the course of a life can be changed by answers on a questionnaire. Now we may be approaching, whether intended or not, an age where your well being can be surmised from a few lines of text and a doctor’s window to your world is a two inch screen glanced at between stock market values and football scores.Now, I don’t mean to be alarmist and I’m not saying this is the death of human care, not by a long shot but it has to be said that we’ve traded off a lot in real interaction in the name of convenience. It’s not so much a problem of cell phones but cell phone culture. Cell phones, rather than augmenting our human encounters, are replacing them and in something as complex, sensitive and human based as the care of our mental health, I don’t think we can afford the distance and I think we’ve already traded off enough effectiveness and depth of care in the interest of convenience. It seems unlikely that an iphone app, no matter how sophisticated and involved can even scratch the surface of the human experience. Of course, now that we’ve reduced the human experience to brain chemistry, it’s not that far a leap to further reduce it to mere shards of information.