As we become more and more technologically connected – to our smart phones, our computers, our IPods and IPads, our Kindle and our video games – are we becoming more disconnected from real life and real people? Or is technology facilitating and enriching human relationships?
I don’t think there is a simple yes/no answer, as technology can BOTH enrich and deplete real relationships. We stay in touch with people who live far way through Facebook, phone, e-mail or skype. We can communicate instantly with anybody, just at the touch of a finger. Yet, this same technology can prevent us from being face-to-face with people, as one phone call can just do it. We can “defriend” people we no longer want to associate with just by pressing a key on our keyboard. No second thoughts. No guilt. No embarrassment. We don’t even have to provide long explanations for our decisions. We can maintain more superficial contacts, avoiding getting too personal.
The most important consequence of being hooked on technology, however, is the fragmentation of our time. We cannot go through a meal without checking our Blackberries; we cannot go through a whole conversation without being distracted by our phone ringing, or by texting. Often our attention is spread between more than one focus. This is what I mean by fragmentation. We function in bits: one moment here, one moment there, and back to the first focus, and so on. Children complain their parents don’t give them full attention, as they listen to their days in school while checking their e-mails or texting. The reality is that most of us cannot do more than one thing at a time WELL. When we jump back and forth between different areas, we end up by being fully nowhere. Children, when they notice their parents not paying them full attention as they talk, may believe it’s their fault. Perhaps they are disappointing to the parents, or not interesting enough, or parents don’t love them, they may wonder. Sooner or later they will disconnect as well, creating a rift that won’t be repaired as they grow older. Eventually they, too, will get hooked to technology as they saw their parents do, and fragment their attention between different areas, people and activities.
Another insidious aspect of technology is that it is always available, and responds to our commands without complaining, without throwing a tantrum or disliking us, unlike real people who may do all these things and more. We get used giving commands and be immediately and consistently obeyed. We thus become more impatient with our partners in real life, and expect them to respond to us just like our technological devices do. Some of us may seek refuge in technology altogether, limiting human contact and deluding ourselves that we are “connected” through the use of social media and phone and e-mail interactions.
What can we do to maintain a healthy balance between technology and real life and relationships? The answer is: MAINTAIN HEALTHY BOUNDARIES. Turn your phone off when your child comes home from school, or when you are having a meal with your spouse, family or a friend. Give the person in front of you your FULL attention when they talk, rather than moving back and forth between the person and the machine that is demanding your attention. Disconnect when you are outside, taking a walk, watering your flowers and, in general, being in contact with nature, or whenever you need a space to think, reflect and enjoy your solitude in order to feel replenished and restored.
Daniela Roher, Ph.D. has been a psychotherapist for nearly forty years in a career that has spanned three countries in two continents. Dr. Roher’s passion for her work stems from a deep interest in human interactions and connections and keeps her at the forefront of the new science of relationships. She continuously studies and applies treatment models that best help couples identify, understand, address and resolve interpersonal issues, in order to bring intimacy and deeper connection back into their love relationships.
Born in Italy, Dr. Roher attended the Universities of Torino in Italy, Cambridge in England, Wayne State University in the US and the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute. The experiences she gained from her studies in different countries nurtured her discipline and love of knowledge and her appreciation of the many ways in which different cultures affect and shape the human mind. From her many years of studying and practicing as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, she brings an ever deepening understanding of the human journey, with all its challenges and rewards.
Dr. Roher lives in Arizona where she has a private psychotherapy practice counseling individuals and couples. When not in her office, her love for the desert keeps her outdoors, not wanting to miss any opportunity to be in touch with nature and observe the miracles that constantly unfold. She is also an avid blogger on various psychological topics, with a special focus on couples’ areas of conflict.