I was a senior in high school when the first iPhone came onto the market. Honestly, I didn’t take much notice, but many others did as the world has never been the same. No one can deny how modern technology has changed the way we interact with others. How many of us would rather order a pizza either via an app or online instead of calling? Would you like to change your address via the US Postal Service’s website or would you go in and speak with someone?
Technology has made many aspects of life much more convenient, comfortable, and faster. But at what cost? Technology is supposed to make our lives better, but psychologists are seeing more and more patients who report feeling disconnected. The reason lies in understanding the true nature of relationships and how we find fulfillment when we adhere to that nature.
Made for Relationships
There’s a great deal of research which indicates that we are made for relationships, and when we lack healthy relationships we naturally flounder. We seek relationships from the moment we are born and begin to cry to attract attention, to when we dress up nicely so that our spouse will give us compliment. Relationships are where we learn how to tackle problems, how to love, and we discover our true selves.
One of the essential components of relationships (especially early relationships) is that we make face-to-face contact with each other. Indeed, a child quickly begins to favor looking at faces (and eventually his mother’s face) over another object. Apparently looking into another person’s eyes is hardwired. Consider: does anyone enjoy someone who will not look at us during a conversation (barring normative cultural customs)? There is something that is unsettling when someone will not meet our gaze. That’s because something within us tells us that something unnatural is going on: namely that a person is avoiding making a connection with us.
Another element of relationships is non-verbal communication. Much of our interaction with others is expressed through facial expressions and tone of voice. Such aspects are lost within text messages, social media posts, and even within phone calls. While most relationships have moments where we communicate without being able to understand non-verbal communication, this becomes a problem when such communication forms take precedent over face-to-face contact. Within your own life, how often do your friends misunderstand something you said over a text message because they were unable to see that you meant to say something with a sarcastic tone instead of an accusatory one?
Connected Without Relationships
With modern technology, we have removed the face-to-face aspect of communication with social technology. We’ve lost eye contact and non-verbal communications. A person can now isolate himself in his home and yet still ‘connect’ with a multitude of individuals from all over the world. For example, a young man can now stay in his parents’ basement playing RPG video games while chatting with his friends, yet never actually meet any of them. Is he connecting with them? Yes and no. Yes, he is making some form of human contact, but his contact is like a glass with the bottom cut out. The water keeps flowing, but he never feels fulfilled because he is missing those vital ingredients to human communication mentioned above.
While such instances are more in the extreme categories, many individuals are quasi-addicted to their smartphones or other technological platforms. Such a dependency upon technology innately pulls us away from face-to-face conversations since we feel the need to double check the latest social information. By doing so, we isolate ourselves just as much as the teenager in the basement. And more importantly, the result is the same: disconnection and bewilderment when others complain about our detachment.
Reclaiming Real Connections
What’s the solution? It would be Pollyannaish to suggest that we should dismantle modern technology or that we can completely unplug from social technology. These items are here to stay and we need to learn to live with them. Still, that does not mean that we need to be plugged in constantly. In fact, the exact opposite is the solution. We need to unplug on a daily basis whether that means leaving our phone in a basket on the counter, to turning it off before bed and using something else as an alarm. We should leave our phones in our jacket pockets when out to a business lunch or in our purse when we meet up with the ladies in our moms’ group. We need to significantly temper our technological use and maximize our natural relational time. This decision can be difficult especially given the addictive nature of social technology in the first place, but it is a decision we all have to make if we wish to find real connections in our daily lives.