Alone Together

Narcissus, in the days of old,
Fell in love with his reflection.
He knew none greater to behold
And starved while staring at “perfection.”
Now we’re enamored with our phones
Reflecting worlds of our own minds.
We sit and stare, as still as stones,
Bound by the modern tie that blinds.

At beaches, churches, concert halls,
Campgrounds, parks, and county fair,
We shut ourselves in online walls
As at our phones we stop and stare,
Side by side with closest friends.
We shun and snub each other thus,
And our relationship descends
To that of strangers on a bus.



Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. 

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25 Responses

  1. Allegra Silberstein

    Thank you for this delightful poem that illuminates our rapt connection to our cell phones.

  2. Adela

    Love this ever so true poem as I type my response on my smart phone. I try hard to limit my time on here but it seems even us “older generation “ can’t seem to put this addiction down for more than a few minutes! But I’m trying ! I feel sad for my grandchildren and the younger generations future!

      • Joshua C. Frank

        You’re welcome, Lawrence! Thank you for your compliments.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Adela! I’m pushing 40, and I have the same problem; this poem was an example of “write what you know.” I feel sorry for younger generations, being raised playing almost exclusively with smartphones instead of playing with slingshots, toy soldiers, cardboard boxes, and stuffed animals (not to mention other children!) as I did.

  3. Brian Yapko

    Fantastic poem, Josh! You are keenly observant and your poetry definitely has a strong handle on the zeitgeist. On the subject you raise: it irritates the heck out of me when people won’t put their phones down in social settings. And Heaven help the selfish person who texts or surfs while they’re driving! It really is an addiction. That being said, I confess to reading your poem on my cellphone!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      So, Brian,
      We should perhaps think of smartphones as liberating, as otherwise we’d be chained to our desktops or at least lugging around a laptop. (You’re probably aware that Yosemite and probably other major parks experienced a dropoff in attendance shortly after the initial release of the smartphone (Jeez! Maybe I mean the pocket-size cell phone): poor reception out there!

      • Brian Yapko

        They are indeed liberating and useful in a lot of comtexts. Julian. I’d hate to have to lug my computer everywhere! But I’d be happy to go back to 1990, before cell phones or the internet. Somehow we survived!

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Before we had smartphones, we didn’t feel the need to lug computers around, or even to do the things we needed computers to do when we didn’t have access to them. At least I didn’t. I couldn’t imagine smartphones would take off the way they did because I couldn’t imagine a need for such a thing!

        I, too, prefer 1990 to what we have today. 1900 would be even better.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Brian! It’s nice to hear such a compliment from you.

      People staring at their phones in social settings irritates me too, hence this poem. There’s a sign that says it all: “We do not have wi-fi. Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1995!”

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    The phrase “the tie that blinds” is a striking take-off on the ordinary “the tie that binds.” It’s the kind of reversal that jars the reader, and that’s good.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Joe! That phrase just popped into my head when I was thinking of something to rhyme with “minds,” and then I knew I had to use it.

  5. Margaret Coats

    Josh, you write of something we see everywhere, but this is an extremely good poem both in wording and in your concept of imaging the phenomenon as narcissism. Not to mention the break between stanzas with one of the two most striking lines. “Blest be the tie that binds/Our hearts in Christian love” is a very familiar end-of-prayer-meeting hymn that goes on to exclaim hopefully, “The fellowship of kindred minds/Is like to that above.” Precisely the opposite of the self-absorbed self-scrutiny enabled by dumb phones.

    Your final line, speaking of the relationship of “strangers on a bus,” pairs perfectly with the opening image of Narcissus. When we get on a bus, we first look around for any set of two seats with no occupant. Failing that desirable situation, we usually choose a non-threatening seatmate who seems likely to agree to the establishment of “no-talk” walls. You’ve clinched it: last word “bus” even echoes first word “Narcissus.”

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Margaret! It’s an honor to hear this from you with all your experience in teaching literature.

      The lines you like so much just came to me fully formed without much thought on my part. You could say the first of them is also a spoonerism summarizing what the modern world thinks, i.e., “Best be the tie that blinds.” Plus their “fellowship of kindred minds” consists of adoration of their phones, the one thing they all have in common. The second was based on the fact that I used to work in a city and commute by bus.

  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Josh, from the title (which frames the message magnificently) to the impactful closing line, this poem says everything about the narcissistic world that modern technology favors. Just like Narcissus, we gaze lovingly at the number of likes our personal prowess lures – an addictive reflection of our own self-worth in the chilly world of self-delusion. I too love your linguistic twist – “tie that blinds” is a stroke of genius. There is nothing as lonely as being alone when “side by side with closest friends” all because we are too self-absorbed with our fake lives to experience the warm and glorious gift of real life. A perfect poetic lesson.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Susan! So nice to hear your compliments. That line was pretty much handed to me by the muse fully formed. All your observations on the subject matter of “phubbing” (snubbing people to look at one’s phone) are spot on.

      Of course, I read your observation that “we gaze lovingly at the number of likes our personal prowess lures” while happily reading through all the comments about my poem about this very problem… oh, the irony!

  7. Jeff Eardley

    Joshua, wonderful observation on these strange times. I am always distressed by the life-sapping obsession with these devices by our youngsters. Strange to be reading this on a phone!!! Thank you for a great poem.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      You’re welcome Jeff! It distresses me too, which is why I wrote this.

  8. Patricia Allred

    Joshua. Congratulations on being a winner in the 2022 contest with this weite. I have penned many poems on the same subject matter elsewhere.
    I do not know how civilizeation can survive online.
    We need to see, talk and be in the presence of
    others! Patricia
    No masks, and fearless!
    Terrific job. Patricia

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Patricia. I’d love to see your poems on the subject.

      I agree, we need physical, in-person human contact instead of seeing our friends as pixels on a screen like the shadows in Plato’s cave. I don’t think civilization can survive like this, either; modern technology and its infrastructure are built on sand. I read that in Japan, young people are so technology-obsessed that they’ve lost interest in marrying and having children. The United States could end up the same way before long.


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