Imagine You Are a Smart Phone
Posted by Dan Williams, MA, JD on 6/1/18 - 3:35 PM

Think of yourself as a smartphone—i-Phone, Android, doesn’t matter which. Push that thought to
its limit and see where it takes you. It might alter the way you experience the feeling of being
alive. And it might open up new paths in therapy.

Properly speaking, a smartphone is not strictly a phone. Rather, it is a device containing numerous
apps, a tool with multi-variant potentiality. Tap on the Facebook icon and the device becomes a
social-media tool; tap on the Gmail icon and it serves as an email-exchange tool; tap on Google
and it’s a search engine; tap on the phone icon and only then does it become what its name
suggests—a phone.

Consider now the human organism—you as a biological being, you in your pre-conscious state,
you before you think your thoughts about who you are, you before you occupy a role. You are in
that pre-somebody state, a bundle of potentiality, a device with uploaded apps. Tap on your
“therapist icon” and you inhabit the role of therapist. You become a certain kind of person, one
who engages with others and the world in a certain confined way. You operate in therapist-mode.
You take on an identity in the same way that a smartphone takes on an identity when an icon is
activated. Tap on your “spouse icon,” your “parent icon,” your “let’s-go-drinking icon” and you
inhabit the role of . . . . well, you get the point. You, the human organism, like the device we call
“a smartphone,” has no unitary identity.

To put it in grandiose terms, the Self is an illusion. There exists only ephemeral, highly contingent
selves within the human organism. Your identity is a function of whatever “app” has been
activated. Indeed, even your reductionist thoughts about yourself—I am this or that—is itself a
function of a certain app icon that has been activated. The implications of this are far-reaching
and profound.

A person highly prone to anger, you might say, is a human organism with a very large “anger-app
icon” on the home page, easily and frequently activated. One who is rarely aroused to anger has a
“small anger-app icon”—all human beings come equipped with an “anger app”—that is situated
far from the home page. You could say that your identifiable personality features—your
somebody-ness—are the readily accessible app icons on your home page.

Here’s the upshot for you to consider, so far as therapy is concerned. In many ways, therapy is an
enterprise of reconfiguring the app icons on a home page. Certain large icons on a home page
may not be the kind of apps a person wants to be easily activated (anger app, jealousy app,
addiction app, etc.). Therapy facilitates the shrinkage of those icons and the removal of them from
the home page. Therapy can also facilitate the placement of sought-after icons onto the home
page. This form of therapy engages with a client as a person without a unifying essence. Therapy

becomes an exploration of apps occupying space on a person’s home page and a discovery of
long-neglected, even forgotten, apps lying dormant several swipes away from that home page.
Therapy under this paradigm diminishes the impulse to diagnose. To tag a person with a
diagnosis—say, as bipolar or borderline—is to risk engaging with that person as having a
unifying, definable identity. It is akin to treating a smartphone as strictly a phone, or a social-
media tool or an email-retrieval tool or so on.

Are there therapy paradigms that suit this I-am-a-smartphone mindset? In my next two blog posts,
I will investigate two paradigms as possible instantiations of this mindset: Internal Family
Systems and Buddhist-inspired therapies (e.g., mindfulness-based therapies).

File under: Musings and Reflections, Therapy & Technology