Technology no doubt has its benefits – the invention of the printing press enabled mass media and brought about the accessibility of popular art; the Internet makes the world available at your fingertips; and cell phones allow you to communicate with whomever you like, whenever you like. The world has never been more connected.
However, this virtually limitless interconnectedness comes with a price.
Infidelity has become easier, face-to-face conversation is diminishing, attention spans are decreasing, and people are forgetting how to relate to other members of society without the barrier of a screen to separate them. While the toll of technology’s impediment is clear in almost all aspects of human interaction, it is perhaps most glaringly so in intimate relationships.
According to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association—in which 143 women in marital or cohabiting relationships completed an online questionnaire on technology use within the relationship—the more technology permeated the relationship, the more likely the couple was to report relationship dissatisfaction, higher levels of depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction.
The findings of this study make sense: when technology interrupts time spent with a significant other, the individual using the technology is sending implicit—albeit most likely unintentional—messages about what they value most. While this may seem excessive or over-reactive, think of the last time you had a date night interrupted by your boyfriend playing Clash of Clans, using your head as a hand rest while you cuddle; or your girlfriend perusing Instagram over dinner.
The ridiculous part is, while it bothers each and every one of us, we all still do it. We go out to dinner, take our phones out of our pockets, and put them on the table. This act inherently divides your attention; while you may be paying attention to the conversation you are having, you also have one eye on your phone. You are present, but not really present.
Psychologists have described this paradoxical situation as an engaging/disengaging process, wherein mobile phones provide a means by which to disengage from face-to-face conversations in favour of engaging with text messages, emails, and social media.
This thirst to connect with others is a vital component of human nature. This basic human need describes our compulsion to form lasting relationships. We seek to create meaningful relationships in order to feel a sense of safety and belonging, and are willing to settle for superficial ones in an effort to meet that need.
The irony is, we sit across the table from the person we love most, shooting off a string of texts or compulsively checking our work emails (guilty), and then when we are apart, we are constantly communicating. There are couples that send text messages back and forth all day, responding each time within five minutes, who then see their partner in person and have nothing to say because they have been talking all day. They go out on a date, and end up pulling out their phones because they have already exhausted the conversation, engaging a cyclical mechanism of disengagement.
Spending every waking hour of every single day with someone is not healthy for a relationship; there is a reason “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a well-known cliché. Having individual, autonomous experiences provide you with stories to share and things to talk about. I may love you to death, but I do not want to be texting you for the entire day. Let’s go out for coffee, or dinner, and talk in person. Seeing your significant other’s face light up while telling you a funny story is a million times better than imagining their voice as you read a text message.
Part of the issue is that we have been trained to think of engaging with our significant other over social media platforms or via text messages as romantic. Sending a “good morning :)” text is not the most thoughtful thing in the world, and we need to stop treating it as such. Sure, it’s nice that your boyfriend thought of you this morning long enough to shoot you a text, but this miniscule gesture should not even register on the grand scheme of things.
In the same respect, it is not the end of the world if your boyfriend favourites another girl’s tweet, and having your boyfriend dedicate his “woman crush Wednesday” post to you should not be the highlight of your day. Your partner’s engagement on social media should not make or break your relationship – if it does, you have much bigger problems.
I asked my boyfriend, a U of M student, what impact he thought technology had on relationships.
“[Technology] keeps the focus off other people, the ones who really matter,” he said. “With Twitter and Instagram, we’re so obsessed with getting favourites, retweets, and likes that we lose track of real-life accomplishments.”
“Your phone is an escape from real life, and a way to ‘be’ with other people who aren’t there.”
It is easy to see where this poses a problem. You begin to pay increasingly more attention to your phone and less attention to your significant other, allowing the relationship to deteriorate. While it is unreasonable, not to mention unrealistic, to attempt to completely remove technology from relationships, it is important to limit it.
Try going out for dinner and leaving your phone at home, restrain yourself from constantly checking your emails on date night, and focus on what is in front of you. Your relationship with your partner is more important than your relationship with your phone.
This article is part of a debate included in the Manitoban‘s ‘Love in the age of technology’ feature. The counterpart article is titled Swipe right for love.