Aaron Bellve of Spit, Bristle and Fury (killer blog title, BTW!) has a thoughtful post about an NPR story on the dawn of therapy by mobile phone.
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.
Aaron comes to this story with a pre-existing condition: skepticism about the impact of technology on human relationships.
Our relationship with technology never ceases to amaze me — mostly in its ability become a substitute for actual relationships…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 can now interact with people without having to make any time and without getting to make any memories. It’s all very distant.
I won’t argue that a mental health app is a substitute for one-on-one talk therapy. But Aaron’s blog post is an example of where tech therapy can be useful: in prompting us to think more carefully about the intersection between technology and mental health.
Now, I don’t agree with Aaron’s gloomy verdict about the impact of cell phones on personal relationships. If there’s one thing we’ve seen through the dawn of mobile social apps like Gowalla and FourSquare, it’s that mobile can actually increase face-to-face contact and the density of personal relationships, by making it easier for friends to find each other and hang out. At a much simpler level, how many of us now reach for the cell phone when we find ourselves near a friend’s home or office, calling to see if they are up for a quick cup of coffee?
And I’d even argue that purely virtual interactions can enrich our friendships, too. You see a dog in a stroller, shoot a picture with your cell phone, and send it to a friend; you’re showing them that they are in your mind and that you get their sense of humor. You are in a meeting at the time of your best friend’s big audition, so you can’t call to wish him luck — but you can send a surreptitious text. You use your phone to exchange a round of tweets with a friend in another city and timezone, who you’d otherwise talk with only once or twice a month. All of these interactions serve to enrich your friendships; to get away from once-in-a-while “quality time” and back to day-to-day intimacy.
Of course, it’s a big jump from appreciating the ambient sociability of text messaging to advocating for mental health dispensed by the App Store. But here’s where the App Store plays its part: simply setting the intention to integrate your cell phone into your mental health regime can help you harness its power for your personal relationships and personal growth. A smartphone full of games does nothing to remind you of your larger goals or inner needs.
But a smartphone with a few apps that prompt you to inner reflection could act as a powerful reminder of how technology can help your mental health: by connecting you to the people you love, and the activities that inspire you.