The ways we can connect with each other have grown exponentially over the past two decades. It’s hard to believe such a short time ago, many of us wouldn’t have thought twice about leaving home without our mobile, tablet, smartwatch (or a combination of the three) in hand.
With the rise of social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat, even LinkedIn rapidly becoming must-haves for keeping up with our friends, the latest celebrity gossip, and wider work network we’re becoming more and more reliant on using tech-based means to keep in contact and in the know.
But can our fear of missing out on the digital updates from friends and family impact our relationships in real life? Is our growing reliance on tech taking over from our real-world opportunities to connect?
How is tech affecting our relationships?
It’s hard to deny; advancements in online communication have made us more connected than ever. Between email, social media and instant messaging, many of us won’t make it through the day without checking Whatsapp, Messanger, and our inbox multiple times.
It’s affected all aspects of our lives; work, education, and home. An easier and more convenient way to keep in contact with old friends and long-distance family members, it’s never been easier for us to chat face-to-face with the help of Facetime or Skype. More of us than ever are even turning to digital means to meeting our partners, with an estimated 50% of couples expected to have met online by 2031.
It sounds like the digital revolution has done wonders for our connectivity, right? Some experts are concerned that our reliance on technology is negatively impacting our relationships. On average, each of us checks our phone more than 28 times across the day (with some studies putting that number as high as 150 times a day for the millennials amongst us).
Are we letting our fear of missing out rule our actions in the moment, creating a barrier with our partner? Or is technology helping us strengthen relationships that may otherwise fall to the wayside in our busy lives? We share six ways technology may be impacting our relationships.
1. Online connections lead to more frequent, closer offline communications – according to one researcher from Rutgers University, online conversations could actually lead to more in-person interactions. Regular Facebook users have 9% more people they feel they can discuss important topics with or confide with compared to other internet users, while those who regularly reported using mobile phones and instant messaging also reported closer ties than those who do not.
2. Talking more online can help relationships last longer – however much we would like to, for any number of reasons, we can’t always meet up with friends in person. With the rise in technological advances, it’s never been easier to keep in contact with long-distance friends and family with jam-packed schedules. Our small interactions online – whether that’s through chatting directly, commenting on a friend’s post, or liking their latest pic, can help us to feel connected over a longer period of time.
3. Tech can cut into quality time together – spending quality alone time with your partner can be an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship. According to one study, nearly 70% of women feel that smartphones, computers or TV interferes with their relationship with their partner.
40% expressed feeling that their partner becomes distracted by the TV during conversations together, 35% reported their partners pull out their phone mid-conversation if they receive a notification, with 33% saying their partner doesn’t make it through a meal without pulling out their phone.
With one in four of us actively texting someone else whilst having a face-to-face conversation with our partner, it’s pretty clear that some of us can struggle to give our partners our full attention and stay present in the moment.
While we may not mean it to come across as such, by giving our attention to our phones, tablets, or TV, we prioritise what is happening elsewhere over our time with our partner. Research suggests that the more we feel technology is interfering in our romantic relationship, the lower we report our relationship satisfaction to be, and the more likely we are to experience depressive symptoms.
4. It can make us feel more isolated – internet addiction can make us feel more isolated. While many people report feeling closer connections and more of a community vibe from parts of the world wide web, others find it detracts from their real-world experiences, damaging or detracting from other relationships. When we start trying to substitute relationships with electronic connections, we can risk socially isolating ourselves further.
5. Miscommunications can be more frequent – it’s happened to all of us at one time or another. A poorly timed joke or missed inflexion, and something we had said off-hand or in jest has caused more upset than we may have realised. Without the presence of non-verbal communication to ease the way (body language, eye contact, even tone) what we mean to say and what we actually end up communication can become mixed up, potentially harming our relationships with those we care about.
6. We can forget to balance digital and physical interactions – catching up over email or keeping in contact via messenger is all well and good, but is it really a substitute for having a cuppa and a natter together? Or for getting out and building memories with the ones you love? Our digital connections may offer a greater quantity of time together, but what about the quality?
Conversations that take place over several days pinging messages back and forth can miss out on a whole host of underlying hints we may pick up on in person if our friend or loved one is having a tough time or could do with the emotional support we can only truly offer in person through a heart-to-heart, a huge, or supportive shoulder to try on.