Technology affects our modern society in numerous ways, but none more essential than how we connect with others, both in-person and online. The question is, is technology’s involvement in our relationships helpful — or harmful?
To look at technology’s effect on human relationships, we have to look at various social relationships.
Technology makes it easy for us to stay connected to distant relatives. A 2012 poll by AARP and Microsoft revealed that 83% of families consider technology helpful in increasing communication. It’s also an excellent way to stay connected to your children as they grow and become more independent. About 50% of parents are “friending” their children on Facebook adding a whole other dimension to parenting!
Parents are feeling increased anxiety regarding their children’s online safety. One in four Canadian children has a cell phone by grade four! Although parents may feel a mobile phone can help keep them in contact, it can also be dangerous. Child predators are getting more sophisticated and learning to use popular games to find children.
We’re so connected to our devices that we’re rarely more than arms reach away from them. The number of families still enjoying family meals together is declining, and we’re bringing our devices to tables regularly. As it turns out, carrying your phone to the table could harm your relationships with your family and yourself. A recent study found that having a phone at the table causes people to feel distracted and decreases the enjoyment of in-person engagement.
The great thing about technology is how it can connect people with similar interests despite distance or limits. According to Keith Hampton, Ph.D., most online interactions lead to in-person interaction and connection building. Hampton also found that users who utilized social media platforms in a healthy way actually had closer connections with people. This is because the platforms helped them to maintain current relationships and form new ones with people they had more in common with.
Technology can also help manage depression and loneliness. According to Alan Teo, a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, subjects in a 2018 study were half as likely to be depressed when using video chat to stay connected instead of email, text, and social media.
In 2020, 73% of students report having been the victim of cyberbullying. As we expand our perceived social circles, we don’t create deep personal connections with many of the people we interact with online. This kind of connectedness without the emotional bond is what leads to cruelty and cyberbullying. At its core, technology misuse can lead to a growing lack of empathy.
Anyone who’s ever experienced a long-distance relationship understands how difficult it is to maintain. With the help of technology, long-distance romantic relationships suddenly become much more manageable.
Technology has also changed the way we meet potential partners. Of the 35% of teenagers dating, 8% have met a romantic partner online, and 50% of all teenagers have admitted to using social media to show someone they liked them.
Using technology for romantic relationships isn’t just a trend within the younger generations. Online dating has nearly doubled in the boomer generation (ages 55-64), with 36% looking for companionship with the aid of technology.
New research cited in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships has shown that dating apps have actually created a feedback loop of loneliness and compulsive behaviour. Some single individuals report being unable to stop thinking about potential matches. The gamification of dating apps reduces the more serious and personal nature of romantic relationships as well. The process turns dating into a game-like process of accomplishing goals.
Sexting, the act of sending explicit content to someone via a mobile device, has also increased, with one in five cell users reported receiving a sext. Although not always a bad thing, sexting is often linked to one partner feeling pressured to do it, controlling behaviour, unhealthy relationships, and intimate partner violence.
Email has been a significant part of business since 1971. The Internet now allows businesses to connect with employees, customers, and partners from all over the world.
Professionals can now network to a broader audience within their industry thanks to sites like LinkedIn. In this regard, technology can actually open doors for professional advancement and career changes. I certainly appreciate being able to reach people across the globe through social media — and my TEDx talk on Adaptability has over 3M views!
Technology makes it harder than ever for professionals to leave work at the office. A study from the University of Reading reported that 61% of professionals at a managerial level said they struggle to switch off from work, and 54% of them often check work emails while at home. This always-on workforce can lead to burnout and stress — something I can relate to as well!
As with anything in life, there are benefits and drawbacks. Technology can help us keep politicians and law enforcement accountable. It allows consumers to take back power over some large brands, keeps us informed at a moment’s notice, and allows us to be globally connected. However, there are darker sides to technology, and they’re often closely linked to its benefits.
Technology has been an irreplaceable aspect of maintaining social relationships and bonds during the pandemic. The critical thing to remember is that when you have the chance to enjoy in-person communication, leave your devices alone. In the meantime, opt for video communication instead of texting or scrolling your social feed.
Ultimately, technology itself neither has a wholly negative or positive impact on relationships, it is how you use it. The influence technology has on your relationships is directly related to your ability to use it. In my upcoming book The Tech Solution, I discuss using technology to connect, care, and create. This means positive social connection, self-care, and creative pursuits of our passions and interests.
To learn more about healthy tech choices and how technology impacts the many areas of our life, pre-order The Tech Solution now.