My uneasy, addictive, rather symbiotic relationship with my phone
I was sitting alone in a dark room, a tall glass of water in one hand, my iPhone in the other. On the screen in front of me was the Spike Jonze film Her. As it played, the romance in which Theodore, the human, and Samantha, the software, found themselves unfolded.
Then it hit me: I am Theodore. My smartphone is Samantha. I am in love with my iPhone.
The parallels were uncanny. Deep inside the device in my hand, my darkest secrets are stored: My true feelings surrounding my father’s death, the struggles of being a parent, the self-doubt I shrug off each day, photos from my wedding day, a video of my daughter’s first steps. My phone knows the finite details of my brightest and darkest moments.
In the movie, Samantha constantly verbalized her feelings and formed her own opinions. Today’s phones aren’t like that. Mine requires me to tap and swipe across its screen in order to access the information stored within. It’s easy to see this as a one-sided relationship: Through snaps and taps I’m constantly pouring my heart out to my hand-held device and get nothing in return. Actually, that’s not true. I only have to open one of the many apps installed on my handy device and an emotional need is met. Instagram and Facebook provide endless self-worth support with likes. (Or, in their absence, not.) Twitter gives me a platform to vent, or crack jokes that are by most estimates not funny. Safari holds the answer to every question I’ve had or will ever have. Games provide a momentary escape.
I can’t fulfill my phone’s emotional needs, of course. But I can be its protector. A software update, a nighttime charge, a case to protect its beauty—I provide for my phone, and in return, it promises to keep my secrets safe from the outside world, and provide me with an unending, unconditional emotional outlet.
This is a terrifying thing to realize. I begin and end my day interacting with my phone. When chaos arises, my phone is an oasis of relative calm. When I fumble in spelling a word, it automatically corrects me—a selfless act to keep my best interests in mind.
When you hand someone your phone, don’t you feel a hint of anxiety? As if you handed over a part of your own body? And yet the hesitation comes from a fear of being exposed. It’s not that we have something to hide—well, many of us, anyway—but to grant someone use of your phone is like opening a door to your mind and allowing someone to freely browse for awhile.
At one point in Her, Theodore holds up his phone, closes his eyes, and listens as Samantha guides him blindly through a carnival. Take a look around the next time you’re in a public space. How many people do you see doing the same thing—only, instead of closing our eyes and letting a voice guide us, we let a screen be the guide? The primary object through which we are experiencing the moment is the phone, not our eyes. And certainly not whoever happens to be with us.
At the end of the movie—and though it’s a 2013 film, if you haven’t watched it, you should skip to the next paragraph to avoid the plot details I’m about to reveal—Samantha announces that she is leaving and thanks Theodore for teaching her how to love. Technology taught the movie’s human protagonist how to love. Today’s tech is already this powerful. It can teach us how to live, love, laugh, forgive, grieve, forget, desire, cook, and anything else you enter into a search bar.
How deep my feelings are for my phone has shocked me, to say the least, but I don’t plan on breaking up with it anytime soon. (My wife will just have to understand.) I do, however, plan on taking prolonged breaks from it, something I haven’t done in the last 10 years, not since I owned a Sidekick 2 in 2004.
I recently declared that every Sunday would be “No Screen Sunday” in my home. For the entirety of the day, we can do whatever we want, so long as it didn’t involve a screen. No cartoon marathons for the kids, no reading on a Kindle for my wife, no wasting time on Twitter or answering e-mails for me. All of it would have to wait 24 hours. The result was a day unbroken eye contact, laughing, sharing, and enjoying each moment as a family.
For once, my phone wasn’t part of any of it—not even as a camera. It felt fantastic to live in the moment, instead of through it.
“Logged In” is Fortune’s personal technology column, written by Jason Cipriani. Read it on Fortune.com each Tuesday.