June 1, 2010 at 8:10 am 58 comments

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.


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Glaxo Testing Paxil on 7 Year Olds Thanks.


  • 1. Raul  |  June 1, 2010 at 11:22 am

    It’s amazing what technology supplies now…it’s not necessarily for the better. I miss face to face communication or hearing someone’s voice over the phone rather than a status update on a screen. We are slowly but surely becoming words on a screen…I would explain further but I am sure there will be an App for that…

  • 2. lovenlife49  |  June 1, 2010 at 11:23 am

    You have a good point their…..

  • 3. abellve  |  June 1, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Thanks for looking.

    We’ve probably made more technological advances in the last 50 years than the previous few hundred and I think we mistakenly use that as our measure of progress. Not that technology is bad — it’s done amazing things for us — but we have to question what happens when our technological growth exceeds our personal growth.

  • 4. Ravi M. Singh  |  June 1, 2010 at 11:51 am

    I think you’re right to be worried that certain forms of interaction are changing drastically due to our reliance on technology. For me, personally, where something like mental health is concerned, it’s a bit absurd to think that we can gain any insight whatsoever from a phone-app. Mental health and care thrives on understanding the complex symptoms and causes that underpin every individual’s illness or condition.

    Even our relationships with one another, if they are to be meaningful, depend on truly understanding what makes a person tick, their likes and dislikes, their fears and anxieties, and the way they think. You can never gain this type of insight from a few blips of information like a Facebook status or text message. Getting to know someone is hard, and by yielding to convenience we’re only getting further away from that goal. I’m not a luddite by any means, but technology supplements what’s human and is not meant to replace it outright. Hope that made sense. Great post.

    • 5. Ramaa  |  June 2, 2010 at 8:31 am

      Indeed technology should never replace human interaction and we must be conscious of that. The generation of which I’m a part of has enjoyed proper “play time” – ie outdoors full of interaction and not behind a computer but is now also embracing social media. We must become aware that our online communities should only seek to enrich our “real lives” and not vice a versa.


      • 6. abellve  |  June 5, 2010 at 10:26 pm

        “We must become aware that our online communities should only seek to enrich our “real lives” and not vice a versa.”
        Too true and as many have pointed out, balance is key.

  • 7. dressingmyself  |  June 1, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I work at home. I order my food online. I see the delivery man for about 5 minutes. Today I was on the phone when he came, so I just signed the sheet.
    The phone call was from somebody trying to talk me into giving my credit card details – def. not a friend.
    I could pass all my days like this.
    Is this healthy?

  • 8. Lulu  |  June 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    in the everything-is-online era, cell phones are quite needed, but I really feel like being control by technology. Luckily, I am not really a fan cell phones. I do not mind having an old one instead of trying to follow the stream; what’s the newest and most advanced cell phones.

  • 9. iTherapy « My Buddy  |  June 1, 2010 at 12:50 pm

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  • 10. Miami Dolphins Posters  |  June 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Personally, I’m perfectly happy riding out this technology wave until the machines take over. May as well enjoy it in the meantime ;)

    • 11. decorativeceilingtiles  |  June 2, 2010 at 7:49 am

      This is a scary thing you wrote here. I don’t think we want machines to control us.

  • 12. atxjoe512  |  June 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Technology should have never been allowed to get out of hand like it has now. I greatly believe technology could better civilization, but how we are using it it’s become something to take for granite.

  • 13. jcartermarketing  |  June 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I don’t know if I could get into the habit of letting my mobile apps diagnose me. There’s something comforting about a real human checking you out to make sure you’re ok. But then again – computers are more accurate.

  • 14. Nora Salem  |  June 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Its so insane that we need an app for everything. I think it’s this kind of thing that may lead to our demise as a human race!

    Great blog. Keep up the good work.


  • 15. narcoticdreams  |  June 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I know what you mean. I used to go see a psychiatrist who did my med management. Literally a 15-minute appointment, and then off until the next visit. That in itself is crazy! Now you’re going to track the complexity of human emotions and experiences with what amounts to text messages? I can’t even communicate my sarcasm correctly in text messages. How the hell could I communicate a depressive episode or a panic attack?

  • 16. iTherapy « Chicago Mac/PC Support  |  June 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm

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  • 17. David  |  June 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. We do not give palpable human relationships a chance if they are not aided by technology. I wrote a related blog article on socio-internet. Please read it if interested at under category tech babble.

  • 18. craigmcconnell  |  June 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I totally agree with you on this. I think the strengths of our relationships are directly proportional to the amount of ‘online friends’ we have. 10 years ago a text message would have never been enough – now though, it seems like so much effort to meet for coffee and make memories.

  • 19. Haberler  |  June 1, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. You’re a great writer.

    • 20. abellve  |  June 5, 2010 at 10:48 pm


  • 21. Thomas Stazyk  |  June 1, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Just because technology lets you do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

    If you don’t agree, think about those telephone help lines where you have to scream the key word into the phone to get your call directed.

  • 22. sumthin2hope4  |  June 1, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Excellent post with lots of food for thought. What’s the commercial gonna look like for that? -“Feel like going postal? There’s an app for that.”

  • 23. Rob  |  June 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I am a tech obsessive and it doesn’t matter if it’s useful, it’s just if it makes me go “WOW!”

  • 24. dogkisses  |  June 1, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Hello — I wrote a comment and lost it, I think, but that’s technology. If you had been here, sitting on my front porch talking with me then you would know what I had said. I wish people had more front porches and actually sat on them — real porches and not apps simulating the experience.
    Interesting and thoughtful post. I can see where an app like this could help a health care provider gain more insight or use it for extra communication, but not as a replacement for live face-to-face interaction and conversation.
    There are many times when I am with people who communicate in nonvervbal ways and it’s important to be able to see this.

    • 25. Sajib  |  June 2, 2010 at 6:28 am

      Hahahahahaha good points there dude.

    • 26. abellve  |  June 5, 2010 at 10:34 pm

      “There are many times when I am with people who communicate in nonvervbal ways and it’s important to be able to see this.”

      Sometimes that’s the most important part. A few lines of text or an emoticon are a far cry from body language or the look of distress or delight on someone’s face.

  • 27. Matt  |  June 1, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Re: “we have to question what happens when our technological growth exceeds our personal growth”

    Personal growth? Perfectibility of the human race? Alternately, the decline of western civilization? Nah, “there’s nothing new under the sun,” people are just the same as they’ve always been, mostly for the better, sometimes for the worse.

    Maybe I’m optimistic.

    • 28. abellve  |  June 5, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      I’m not saying that with technology’s growth, personal growth (or western civilization) declines, just that each has to have its place. Looking around it seems like we’ve lost focus on one while reaching for the other.

  • 29. publicsp  |  June 1, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Thanks for your article.
    It appears that the “art of communication” is becoming restricted to the receivers interpretation of the text message or email sent.
    In my frustration I coined a new technology called “kitter” some time ago in my blog:
    “Maybe it is time for me to embark upon a new social networking tool called Kitter, a combination of Keith and Litter (or more appropriately “Kitty Litter”), and in line with current new offerings I will keep the text limit to an even smaller amount, say 11 characters.
    Whereas Twitter has successfully pioneered microblogging (Tweets) by offering a huge 140 characters and Flutter is tempting us with the idea of nanoblogging (Flaps) with a 26 character maximum; Kitter will surpass them all with the introduction of femtoblogging (Kraps) in just 11 characters.”
    Thanks again for sharing.

    • 30. Tony  |  June 2, 2010 at 7:50 pm

      The medium is the message.

  • 31. philldotcom  |  June 1, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    I love text messaging and accomplishing tasks from my smartphone. I find it so convenient and fun at times (okay all the time) but I have to agree with this article. As much as I love using my smartphone, I much rather interact with my friends in person over words on a screen. Instead of an improved connection to friends, our social involvement with them is actually decreasing. We spend less time with our friends and family, but more time in front of a computer screen or our damned smartphones. We the people are becoming more and more isolated. We can stand in a room full of people and at the same time dismiss every single one of them in exchange for the attention you believe your device needs. A stupid little notification light is the wall some people just won’t ever overcome. Even if we are with our friends or family, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, will always be a touch away and the world will never let it go. It’s a paradigm shift. But this mobile world paradigm looks like it’s here to stay.

  • 32. Scary Girl  |  June 2, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Great post.

    The app’s no different to the mood journal thing I keep. I can see how it could be handy to track mood swings, patterns and whatever, but it wouldn’t be good for all. If it gave out numbers to crisis services in the event of a meltdown it’d be good…eh.

  • 33. Stephen Melinger  |  June 2, 2010 at 1:11 am

    It isn’t a substitute for relationships. It’s just another means of communication. It’s really an extension of relationship.

    • 34. abellve  |  June 5, 2010 at 10:50 pm

      …at its best, you’re right.

  • 35. Songbird  |  June 2, 2010 at 1:54 am

    Yes we are more dependant on technology when it comes to communication. I for one am very glad we have all this technology available as I happen to have friends and family scattered around the globe. But for medical reasons…. that I would have to say sounds a bit dubious for me…. you cannot detect a full tone or a mood etc from a text message!

  • 36. DennisaurusRex  |  June 2, 2010 at 2:20 am

    I do see your criticism in this unreliable new therapy procedure. However, it would also be wise to note that this is a work in progress. While it may have its flaws, to some people out there, just to get back a response when they are unable to go to the therapist is reassuring. Your sentiment is correct. The degradation of human culture with cell-phone culture is disappointing and otherwise pathetic. However, the trading of human interaction for computer interaction is ultimately a choice that each person makes. A part of me contends that perhaps the same situation arose upon the invention of the telephone. People back then probably complained that they would never see “eye to eye” again. In that way, is technology really out-speeding human development? We still do communicate and interact with human beings even though there is the option not to. Because of that fact, I believe that even with this new option for non-human interaction, like some other posts have noted, people prefer human interaction and ultimately they will continue to choose it regardless of what is available simply because it is what they prefer.

    • 37. abellve  |  June 2, 2010 at 9:18 am

      “…the trading of human interaction for computer interaction is ultimately a choice that each person makes.”

      This is usually true, except that in our current mental health system all too often doctors make the choices for you. Many don’t choose the 15 minute drug adjustments when they’re seeking guidance. It’s just that it’s all they’re offered. It’s possible that this could, to some extent, be the next step.

  • 38. graduating2soon  |  June 2, 2010 at 3:38 am

    I say this, mind everyone, as a huge proponent and advocate for advances in communications technology and proper uses for them that allow for convenience at the cost of certain human interactions:

    This is SO not the way smart phone applications should be used. But as opposed to your argument that it is a reliance on the technology and a problem with cell phone culture, I think that this is the result of our wonderment with the novelty of the iPhone app.

    With such new technology, everyone trying to make a difference (but usually, to make a buck) brainstorms how this new communications technology can be applied and where it could make life faster, easier, or more efficient. In this case, some nitwit thought it would be a good idea to ignore the vast miscommunication possibilities that comes with SMS text messaging. When communicating via text rather than direct communication, you lose tone of voice, body language (facial expressions importantly), inflection…all factors that aid in the interpretation of a message.

    It’s great that people are experimenting with the technology and trying to create the next immensely useful application, but this is just ridiculous.

    Christ, this is what I get for 3 years of studying communications.

  • 39. Julie  |  June 2, 2010 at 4:25 am

    Very well said!

    I loved your post!

    And I remember back a few years. (In secondary school? Oh. School systems in other countries) When all the girls in my class was sending ugly messages to each other about this one girl! (Luckily I was not written to or about. I was left alone)

    But I think the mobile and the internet can give Lots of people social angst and other mental problems.

    Of course there are A Lot of positive things to it. But it also have a lot of bad sides to it!

  • 40. David  |  June 2, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Phones, and gadgets are getting way to advanced for me!

  • 41. Sajib  |  June 2, 2010 at 6:23 am

    It is obvious that The technology of the present revolutionizes the way we get connected with our friends and relatives.

  • 42. caino  |  June 2, 2010 at 7:09 am

    its a shame with many technological advancements we constantly moving away from nature. thats the reason why there a loads lonely people in heavly populated cities. people should interact more. great post

  • 43. chasingvenus  |  June 2, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Urgh… As attached as I am to my cell phone, it can never be a replacement for tactile human relations. It’s a tool and a toy. One that more and more people seem to be choosing over real interaction. But then, anyone who choses a status update over a phone call probably isn’t the type of person I want to be interacting with anyway.

  • 44. peonyli  |  June 2, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Great post!
    Most of us pride ourselves with being “techy”. I myself am guilty of this. There came a time when I got so addicted to the internet and my gadgets that my mom got angry because I was not seeing my family much- and I live in the same house with them.
    “It seems unlikely that an iphone app, no matter how sophisticated and involved can even scratch the surface of the human experience.” <so true. I'm scared of the time when Apple creates an app that gives you hugs so you won't need to hug your family.

  • 45. Pictures « Off the Tangent  |  June 2, 2010 at 7:59 am

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  • 46. sanjeevananda  |  June 2, 2010 at 8:06 am

    technology is something that we can’t avoid even if we desparately try to. The more you use it the more it pulls you.

  • 47. decorativeceilingtiles  |  June 2, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I would say “Balance” is the keyword here .

    • 48. abellve  |  June 5, 2010 at 10:43 pm

      You hit the nail on the head there, though looking around, that balance is a rare thing indeed.

  • 49. Larze  |  June 2, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Excellent post. We tend to become too attached to technology, and in turn we lose those personal relationships that make us human. That’s what happens when people abuse technology. However, if we use it the right way we can enhance those relationships. Because of tech, we can also keep in contact with people whom we thought we would’ve lost touch with. I know that the cellphone has helped my relationship with my significant other b allowing us to check up on each other during our stressful jobs. It really is a double edged sword, but in time it should all level out.

    • 50. abellve  |  June 5, 2010 at 10:25 pm

      Thanks and we’re in total agreement. I didn’t really write this as a slight to technology and its uses in communication (I’m admittedly glued to my phone plenty), only to say that it’s gone too far in many respects and that there are some some interactions for which a phone app will never be an appropriate substitute.

  • 51. Moranna  |  June 2, 2010 at 9:35 am

    An interesting concept and excellent post. Being a snr. sewnior citizen living away from my family, I could’t manage without technology!

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brad Grier, Narita Mehrotra, marisoldiaz, Nicolás Caitán, Nicolás Caitán and others. Nicolás Caitán said: RT @BeyondMeds: iTherapy relationship w/ tech never ceases 2 amaze me-mostly in its ability become a substitute 4 … […]

  • 53. Can a mobile phone make you sane instead of crazy?  |  June 3, 2010 at 1:46 pm

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  • 54. Brigitte Khair Mountain  |  June 4, 2010 at 2:37 am

    I agree with the argument that we have lost a lot of our human touch by hiding behind our screens.
    A good post.

  • 55. Drock  |  June 4, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Great post. I think technology has created so many new ways for communication but at the same token taken away from close family development. Thats my take on it but good thoughts.

  • 56. christiangrblr  |  June 5, 2010 at 7:31 am

    so true :(


  • 57. Justin A. Watson  |  June 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Good commentary!

    I think it’s important, when criticizing the topics here, to remember that technology hasn’t created some new set of problems, rather, it’s brought to our immediate attention problems we already had.

    And when looking for a culprit, we must first look at ourselves, not our cell phones.

    When can we admit we’re giving too much credit to smart phone apps?

    I say we can admit we’re giving too much credit to technology in general when we realize we’re using it as a scapegoat for our own problems. No, technology does not allow for a drab, repressed, closed off, fragmented lifestyle, it enables and simplifies one that already existed.

    The question is, will we use the power for good?

  • 58. iTherapy (via Spit, Bristle and Fury) « My Blog  |  July 20, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    […] 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 se … Read More […]


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