Smartphone: seducer, slave or spy?

Intimate connection – smartphone interaction

When we think about our relationships with technology, we might take a metaphorical perspective. Maybe, as personal smartphones become more and more entwined in the ways in which we experience the world, we should explore framings of our relationships with these intimate devices.

This article will be a somewhat freewheeling and quick-fire adventure that comes from my ongoing research into the use of digital technologies by students at Central Saint Martins. Data in the form of individual interviews, and over 100 photographs of people with personal technologies, were captured across two terms in 2012. These materials are currently being explored using varying methods.

The integration of personal and portable smartphones into our everyday lives is in its infancy, yet there are already multiple ways in which we experience these digital devices. Together we co-habit online and physical spaces, alter conceptions of space and time, and develop new social practices. So, how might we describe our smartphones, indeed might they have multiple ‘personalities’ and our relationships with them be complex and socially constituted?

Togetherness or ‘tethered together’?

Smartphone as seducer  There is a sense of expectation, anticipation and mystery afforded by a silent, unlit mobile phone as it lies on a table, or is caressed by the hand of its partner. The phone acts as a temptress, a flirt, offering the possibility of illumination, interaction, connection and gratification.

Smartphone as slave   Not only are we ‘tethered to our iPhones’ through contracts, but the smartphone, too, is in servitude. It does the bidding of a service provider, it is used by the communications network to track our movements, it hosts apps that are downloaded on to it, and if we choose to ‘upgrade’ due to a newer, faster, more productive model, it is often disregarded and cast aside.

Smartphone as spy   The close connection between the creative and assistive aspects of the smartphone, and its function as a covert operator enabling the tracking and recording of our physical and virtual movements, suggests we have a double-agent in our midst.

Smartphone as confidante   At times we offer the world an impression that we treasure the presence of our smartphones. We touch, hold and stroke our devices, they are placed on display within our reach, pressed to our cheek, held in our pockets close to our bodies, and we stare at them when walking, cradling them, in the street. This intimate physical relationship extends to the secrets that we trust they will keep – whatever the media. We share our friendships, our family relations and our work connections with them – so they are included in our social networks.

There is also something to investigate around the way our relationship with our smartphones alters depending on the situation. For further thinking…