Distracted from Meaning: A Philosophy of Smartphones

That is the title of my new book (coming in October 2022 with Bloomsbury Academic). Here is the book’s official abstract:

When our smartphones distract us, much more is at stake than a momentary lapse of attention. Our use of smartphones can interfere with the building-blocks of meaningfulness and the actions that shape our self-identity.

By analyzing social interactions and evolving experiences, Roholt reveals the mechanisms of smartphone-distraction that impact our meaningful projects and activities. Roholt’s conception of meaning in life draws from a disparate group of philosophers—Susan Wolf, John Dewey, Hubert Dreyfus, Martin Heidegger, and Albert Borgmann. Central to Roholt’s argument are what Borgmann calls focal practices: dinners with friends, running, a college seminar, attending sporting events. As a recurring example, Roholt develops the classification of musical instruments as focal things, contending that musical performance can be fruitfully understood as a focal practice.

Through this exploration of what generates meaning in life, Roholt makes us rethink the place we allow smartphones to occupy in the everyday. But he remains cautiously optimistic. This thoughtful, needed interrogation of smartphones shows how we can establish a positive role for technologies within our lives.

Philosophy in the Hopper

FWIW, I currently have two pieces in the hopper:

1. Distracted from Meaning: A Philosophy of Smartphones — a monograph, forthcoming with Bloomsbury Academic (2022).

2. “Performance, Technology, and the Good Life” — a chapter for The Oxford Handbook on the Phenomenology of Music (2022). This chapter draws upon Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology—specifically his concepts of focal practices and focal things—to make sense of the precariousness and meaningfulness of live musical performance.

Being-with Smartphones

My essay, “Being-with Smartphones,” is in Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 25, no. 2 (2021). Here’s the abstract:

In a social situation, why is it sometimes off-putting when a person reaches for his smartphone? In small-group contexts such as a college seminar, a business meeting, a family meal, or a small musical performance, when a person begins texting or interacting with social media on a smartphone he may disengage from the group. When we do find this off-putting, we typically consider it to be just impolite or inappropriate. In this essay, I argue that something more profound is at stake. One significant way in which individuals shape their self-identities is through interactions with others in small groups. Much identity-work is interdependent; it requires generating and preserving social contexts. I argue that the smartphone-use of some individuals can fracture a group’s context and thus negatively affect the identity-work of others. In this essay, I examine identity-work, sociality, and personal technology from a perspective of existential phenomenology.

my writing

My research is phenomenology—philosophy of technology, philosophy of art, philosophy of music

Distracted from Meaning: A Philosophy of Smartphones (Bloomsbury Academic, 2022).

• “Performance, Technology, and the Good Life,” in The Oxford Handbook on the Phenomenology of Music (2022).

• “Being-with Smartphones,” Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 25, no. 2 (2021)

“On the Divide: Analytic and Continental Philosophy of Music,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 75, no. 1 (2017): 49–58;

• “From the Author’s Perspective: Groove: A Phenomenology of Rhythmic Nuance,” American Society for Aesthetics Newsletter, Spring 2015;

• Groove: A Phenomenology of Rhythmic Nuance, Bloomsbury Academic, 2014;

• Key Terms in Philosophy of Art, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013;

• “In Praise of Ambiguity: Musical Subtlety and Merleau-Ponty,” Contemporary Aesthetics 11 (2013);

• “Philosophy of Music,” in The Grove Dictionary of American Music, second edition. Ed., Charles Hiroshi Garrett, (Oxford University Press, 2013). Also published online at Grove Music Online (Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press);

• “Continental Philosophy and Music,” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music. Eds., Theodore Gracyk and Andrew Kania (Routledge, 2011);

• “Musical Musical Nuance,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 68 (2010): 1-10;

• “Musical Experience, Philosophical Perspectives,” in The Oxford Companion to Consciousness. Eds., Tim Bayne, Axel Cleeremans, and Patrick Wilken (Oxford University Press, 2009) Also published online at Oxford Reference.

on the divide: analytic and continental philosophy of music

My 2017 essay, “On the Divide: Analytic and Continental Philosophy of Music,” which was published in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, is one of the top-downloaded articles in the journal’s recent publication history. (By January 2018, the article had been downloaded 549 times.)

For an interesting response to my essay see Andreas Vrahimis, “Is There a Methodological Divide between Analytic and Continental Philosophy of Music? Response to Roholt.” In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (Volume 76, no. 1, 2018).

philosophy of technology

During the last couple of years I’ve been developing research in the philosophy of technology. I am currently writing and rewriting an essay about individual identity, sociality, and smartphones.

reviews/musings on groove

Follow these links for reviews and discussions of my book Groove: A Phenomenology of Rhythmic Nuance. I really appreciate the time these reviewers and writers invested in the book.

from the author’s perspective: groove

I’ve written a fairly lengthy piece—”From the Author’s Perspective: Groove: A Phenomenology of Rhythmic Nuance”—which appears in the new American Society for Aesthetics Newsletter. Here is the opening paragraph:

How should we understand the relationship between music and body movement? The common view is that a listener’s body movement is a reaction to, an effect of, perceiving music. I don’t doubt that this is, in part, correct. I claim in Groove, however, that moving our bodies is often something that we do in order to grasp certain rhythmic qualities; our movement is an integral part of a perceptual skill for grasping qualities such as a groove. We know that the perception of music is not passive; I view bodily movement as a component of one’s active perception of music. To develop this, I draw upon the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s account of embodied perception, emphasizing his notion of motor intentionality. Before we get to this, though, let’s take a few steps back…

Read the rest here:  35.1