10 years ago, although I was seeing just as many individuals and couples in Silicon Valley’s Los Gatos, Campbell, Santa Clara, Willow Glen and nearby neighborhoods, it was rare that partners or family members would complain about the intrusiveness of electronics on their relationship lives.
Once in awhile I’d work with parents whose teens were potentially addicted to gaming. Often couples would acknowledge that time together was pretty much time sitting in the same room, watching TV. But cell phones, iPads, tablets, laptops? Not particularly on the radar.
Now, with most couples or individuals who are seeing me for couples’ relationship issues, at least one person is saying they feel shut out and unable to get their loved one’s attention because of the intrusion of these devices.
For better or worse, technology allows for 24/7 contact across geography and time-zones. The traditional boundaries between work, school, and home life are blurring and even disappearing.
In a positive sense, technology allows people to be present, even when they can’t be there. When relationships are strong and connected, these options can be quite supportive. At the same time, these options can contribute to information overload, stress regarding how to prioritize, no downtime, and the fantasy that these kinds of communication actually replace focused face to face interactions.
On the plus side technology has allowed for the phenomenon of internet dating, allowing people to create a profile, and have that profile seen by many more potential dates than would likely ever have happened in the pre-internet world. People can have long distance relationships and keep in touch during business travel via video chat and Skype.
On the negative side, adults can feel obligated to respond regarding work issues when they are with each other and family. Teens can be bullied while at home. Distress regarding the content of an email, text, IM, tweet, instagram post, etc, can be triggered with little to no ability to process and respond appropriately in a timeframe that allows for the continuation of interaction and support by loved ones.
As therapists, we call a lot of this “blurry boundaries”.
Consider your own use of technology and how it affects your important relationships. When you are socializing, at home or outside the home, are you fully present? Or are you sort of there but also focused on a device that keeps you somewhat distracted? Do you think friends and family experience your attention as good enough? Or are they (and you) somewhat frustrated by the distractedness of you watching for and responding to texts and emails.
Another tough questions for some; are you distracting yourself from a significant other, by focusing on electronics, as a passive way of avoiding difficult issues in a relationship?
Not all incoming and outgoing information is equally urgent. When are your relationships more important? This issue may call for conversation and negotiation in your life.