Some time ago I wrote a blog called “The Cruel World of Human to Human Relationships” – this subject has been on my mind for several months, and a very good friend of mine and colleague had coffee with me at my office recently, and reinforced the subject when he said: “Can you please tell me why we do not trust one another to speak human to human as we are today, why are people so crazy to email, Whats App, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn , all part of the new and wonderful ways we can now connect with one another electronically, each with its own culture and unique set of rules. In one sense, the planet has never been more interconnected. And yet, this over interconnected world, while wonderful, also comes to human to human relationships with a cost?”
I pondered and then smiled, telling him “If you watch around you on the daily commute or even walking down the street, you will observe people reaching out for their smartphone as soon as an alert either vibrates or arrives to check email and respond to texts and social media channels. Brain scans have shown that dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, is released every time we hear our phone beep. This means we can become addicted to using our phones to a certain extent and it can be tough to break the habit. You may need to put in place something to reinforce the change in behaviour until it becomes second nature. The rest of the day, people are constantly on a tablet, mobile device, laptop or desktop for personal or professional use. The whole world is messaging, browsing, friending, tweeting and sharing.”
It’s great that we have the technology to connect with people across the globe instantly, but there is also a sense of disconnection. If there’s an internet-capable device with a screen anywhere nearby, the immediate world does not get our full attention.
Much has been written about the dangers of Internet addiction. From sport to merely surfing the web, the Internet is clearly the television of the 21st century, an electronic drug that often yanks us away from the physical world. Like any addiction, the real cost, for those of us who are truly addicted, is to the number and quality of our relationships with others. We may enjoy online relationships using social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, for example, but the difference between these kinds of interactions and interactions with people in the physical world is clearly vast. As long as we expect no more from these online relationships than they can give, no good reason exists why we can not enjoy the power of social media sites to connect us efficiently to people we would otherwise not touch. The problem, however, comes when we find ourselves subtly substituting electronic relationships for physical ones or mistaking our electronic relationships for physical ones. We may feel we’re connecting effectively with others via the Internet, but too much electronic-relating paradoxically engenders a sense of social isolation.
I cannot tell you how many times I have wondered what someone did really mean by their words, whether on social media, in a text or over email. Unless you see the person’s face, hear their voice and understand the environment, you have no idea the context surrounding the written words. Misunderstandings, miscommunication s, wrongful interpretations and assumptions result, which have an impact on how we view others.
Online Contact Falls Short on Empathy: As a corollary to the context issue, there’s an utter lack of empathy when using technology to interact with others. “I’m so sorry your you feel this way” or “I heard you lost your job; I feel for you.” Where is the compassion and solidarity with loss? It certainly does exist within the soul of the person who texted, posted or emailed this, but words do not convey that.
Technology Fails to Deliver Essential Personal Touch: Tech Overload leads to an increase in stress and psychological issues: technology has become an electronic addiction for some, taking them out of the physical world as they cling to the features it offers. And like many addictions, there’s an impact on the number and quality of human relationships. Conversations through social media and email take the place of traditional interactions and discussions; eventually, a person doesn’t even need to leave the house to communicate with others – and many people won’t. The phenomenon leads to social isolation that can be crippling for some.
For transferring information efficiently, the Internet is excellent. For transacting emotionally sensitive or satisfying connections, it is absolutely not.
Even when we are all careful to use the Internet only to exchange information, problems can still arise. People tend to delay answering emails or block and ignore calls when they do not have what they consider to be good answers or when they want to avoid whatever responsibility the email demands of them. But this is like being asked a question in person and rather than responding, “I don’t know” or “I’ll have to think about it,” turning on your heels and walking away in silence. It is far easier to ignore an email sender’s request than a request from someone made in person because an email sender’s hope to get a response or frustration in not receiving one, remains mostly invisible. But it’s every bit as rude.
IFS research sampled 143 married/cohabiting women. Each woman reported how often certain devices, like cell or smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs, interrupted interactions she had with her husband or partner. The women also rated how often specific technology interruption situations occurred, such as a partner sending text messages to others during the couple’s face-to-face conversations or getting on his phone during mealtimes.
Overall, about 70% of the women in our sample said that cell/smartphones, computers, or TV interfered in their relationship with their partner at least sometimes or more often. Many women also said that the following specific interruptions happened at least daily:
– 62% said technology interferes with their leisure time together
– 40% said their partner gets distracted by the TV during a conversation
– 35% said their partner will pull out his phone if he receives a notification even if they are in the middle of a conversation
– 33% said their partner checks his phone during mealtimes that they spend together
– 25% said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations
Technology has become an integral part of our lives with more and more of us emailing, texting, tweeting and Facebooking. A recent survey by Facebook found the first thing 80% of us do in the mornings is check our phones. The average user then goes on to check their device 110 times a day.
This must mean that we are more connected to each other than ever but what exactly does it mean for romantic relationships? Are we giving our partners the time and attention they need? Or are we spending more time than we should in our own worlds with our always-on technology?
Research conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on a sample of 2,252 Americans last year indicates cause for worry: 25% felt their partner was distracted by their phone when they were together and 8% had argued as a result.
The figures were worse for younger people: 42% of 18-to-29-year-olds said their partners had been distracted by their phones and 18% had argued over the amount of time the other was spending online.
Our “emotional invisibility” on the Internet perhaps also explains so much of the vitriol we see on so many websites. People clearly have a penchant for saying things in the electronic world they’d never say to people in person because the person to whom they’re saying it isn’t physically present to display their emotional reaction. It’s as if the part of our nervous system that registers the feelings of others has been paralyzed or removed when we’re communicating electronically, as if we’re drunk and don’t realize or don’t care that our words are hurting others.
Social media websites are wonderful tools but are often abused. A few common sense rules for the electronic world apply:
– Do not say anything on email you would feel uncomfortable saying to someone in person
– Do not delay your response to messages you would rather avoid
– Relationships are affected by online communication
– Balance time on the Internet with time well spent with friends, family outside interests
Finally, what we all need to remember is that real world relationships are absolutely vital to our mental health – it’s true that technology has given us the ability to stay constantly connected, constantly at work, but it’s not technology’s fault. Let’s instead look in the mirror and realise who’s really to blame here. It’s time to take control of our technology and our lives so that we can rediscover the wonderful treasures that are buried in those separate realities we once had. Remember, there’s a time to plug in and a time to unplug. Choose wisely.
All in all trust is a huge issue with online presence, the impact of technology on human interaction paints a pretty gloomy picture. But it is a valuable discussion to have, as it teaches us the value of balancing our offline and online communications with others, personally and professionally. I guess the best approach is to make yourself available through technology only when appropriate, so that it supplements our relationships rather than replacing them.
What happened to handwriting? What happened to privacy on a date? What happened to friends-of-friends? What happened to picking up the phone randomly to say hello or I love you? What happened to turning up to a date with flowers, and not sending a virtual picture of a rose?
As Anthony Carmona once said:
“Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth.”