by Tom Kaneshige

Smartphone Addiction: Why Are We Afraid of Being Alone?

Jun 18, 2012 3 mins
Consumer Electronics Smartphones

An overly connected mobile phone culture was on display at the U.S. Open last week. So what did my friend do? He unplugged on the Lost Coast.

Are people really that lonely?

It seems even outside of work, they need to feel plugged in. Apparently, they can’t stand to be alone. They’ve got to read the latest email, text friends (even while driving), post stuff on Facebook and tweet whatever pops into their heads.

Now they’re even talking to Apple’s Siri, a voice-enabled artificial intelligence engine baked into the iPhone 4S. Siri’s engaging personality and soothing feminine voice makes her the perfect virtual friend. Oh, I’m so lonely, Siri.

(Cue up Lonely Stranger from “Unplugged” by Eric Clapton – great song!)

At the U.S. Open in San Francisco’s Olympic Club golf course last week, officials tried to force people to unplug. They forbid cell phones and other electronics on course grounds so that players wouldn’t be distracted by noises, buzzes and beeps.

So what did people do? They stood in long lines to use a pay phone.


You’d think people could handle being disconnected for the day. After all, it wasn’t so long ago when a cell phone was a fascination. Not everyone had one. Today, though, people feel naked – or is it alone? – without it.

In one of the great modern-day ironies, golf pro Phil Mickelson playing at the Memorial Tournament earlier this month reportedly sent a text to the PGA Tour commissioner on the sixth fairway. His complaint: Course officials weren’t governing cell phone use well enough.

Mickelson withdrew from the tournament after the first round citing “mental fatigue.” Perhaps he just needed some alone time.

One of the problems is that it’s hard to find a place to really be alone. Seems like cell phone towers are everywhere. Saunter down bustling Market Street in San Francisco, and you’ll see all sorts of people talking at or into their phones, or just talking to themselves.

But there’s one place to really get unplugged. Recently, my friend went hiking and camping on California’s Lost Coast for three days, a wild place full of rattlesnakes hiding in driftwood, elk herds, sea lions and bears. (Oh, and spectacular views!)

The Lost Coast is a special place because the only way to get there is on foot. No roads can navigate the rugged coastline where mountains butt up against the beach. There’s obviously no cell reception on the Lost Coast, and my friend was grateful for it.

I guess a trip to the lonely Lost Coast is the only way to get unplugged these days.


(Credit: dmacphoto)