You're in a meeting and you get a beep! It’s a text message or email. It's either from a loved one wishing you well, a work related message or the latest news. Does this scenario feel familiar?
A lot of people are so attached to their cell phones that go to sleep laying next to them! (I am glad to say I don't anymore!).
We, perhaps, feel that we could miss that one really important notification when we shut our eyes.
Ideally, all the technology we enjoy is meant to make our lives easier but we are letting it take us places we don't want to go. Just take some quick examples: people respond to emails or text messages during board meetings. Others do it at funerals and we've observed young people texting each other as they ‘hang out’ in the same room. Some are constantly updating their social media statuses while in class. There are even some so adept that they can maintain eye contact as they compose a tweet. In a way, this multitasking skill is massively awesome. Seriously though, all this technology can hijack our lives and isolate us instead of connecting us more to the people around us.
Over the past 20 plus years, social media and portable technologies have weaved into every fabric of our lives. We’ve become so plugged in and addicted it’s affected our relationships with people. We are so connected yet often do so in ways that are not beneficial. Conversations are not only punctuated by device notifications, these notifications sometimes ARE our conversations. We are living in an age where we would ‘rather text, than talk’. However, we all know that it’s hard to convey emotion in a text.
It’s not that it’s all bad, but over-reliance on this mode of communication (text messages, status updates, emails) can be a problem.
As humans, our relationships are rich and the connections we make have implications on our well-being.
A recent study by the American Sociological Association (ASA) found that ‘emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationships are associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations’. The study also showed that in participants that both gave and received close emotional support experienced the most psychological benefit. It’s easy to see how the same benefit can stretch to everyone in a nuclear or extended family.
When it comes to children and adolescents, developing the skills of face-to-face conversation are impacted by this ability to communicate. Poorly developed conversation skills can compromise our capacity for self-reflection and emotional intelligence (EI). For kids, learning proper conversation skills is a developmental milestone. Coined in 1990, EI refers to the ability to ‘perceive, evaluate and control emotions’.
Human relationships are messy. We clean them up with technology but sometimes we sacrifice connection for communication. How many times have you responded to or received a text and interpreted it incorrectly? When we talk to people face to face, we communicate not only verbally but physically. There are also nuances that enable us to be more effective listeners. As the ASA study suggests, it brings us emotionally closer.
Here are some things to consider:
Are you comfortable with how much time your teenager or toddler spends on electronics?
How is your use of electronics affecting the way your child's perception?
If you do not like how it’s affecting yours and your family’s lives, what small steps can you take so you still be connected but still engage and communicate in a more effective manner face to face?
A character from Henrik Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of The People’ offers an attitude we should practice, ‘I have learned in the school of life and experience that moderation is the most valuable virtue a citizen can possess...’
The fact is, technology is not going to become uncool and disappear, nor is the family. The onus is on us to moderate how much technology we consume, more so for caregivers or parent. How technology affects us permeates every corner of our lives and can be a force for positive change or problematic consequence.