Technology Turmoil


I recently read that some research suggests that technology is actually helping strengthen our relationships rather than isolating people and harming relationships. That, indeed, people who use social networks tend to have more close relationships – not just online, but in real life.

I have to admit, I had to go back and read that again. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this line of thinking, to be honest.

The other morning, my best friend made her usual stop by Panera for coffee before heading into the office. We were talking later and she was saying that, as she stood there waiting for her order, she looked around and noticed that every single person in the room was staring at a screen. People aged 8 – 80. Male and female. Sitting alone, or even worse, sitting with a companion or more. Every. Single. Person. No conversations. Just staring at their respective screens. No human interaction.

That made me sad to think about.

Cell phone technology was just hitting its stride when our kids were small. It was a complete unknown to parents as to how to handle the use of such technology – most especially when it came to our children. Should they be allowed to have a cell phone? At what age? Is it safe? But, it’s such a great idea “in case of an emergency” … And so the questions and debates raged. Were you a good parent because your kid DID have a cell phone, or were you a better parent if your kid DID NOT. Then cell phones became so much more. They are tiny computers that allow us to access the entire world from something that fits into our pockets. Helpful? Yes. Convenient? Very. Useful? Absolutely. But, at what cost? Have we all gotten so sucked into to our devices that we can’t relate to each other face to face anymore?

Technically, I am a Gen-Xer. Maybe it’s just my age that makes me feel this way. I’m of the age that the amount of privacy you had while talking to your friend on the phone was completely determined by the length of the telephone cord and how far you could stretch it because the only phone in the house was mounted on the wall in the kitchen. Yep. I’m that old. When I see a group of people staring at their screens and worry that we all becoming totally anti-social, am I wrong?

Or could it be that we’re just socializing differently?

Maybe that’s it. I mean, if it weren’t for Facebook, I’m sad to say that I wouldn’t know a thing about any of my out-of-state relatives’ lives at this point. Because of technology, I actually do have relationships with them – and for that, I’m very grateful. Even my own children. Texting and instant messaging means we can reach out to each other whenever and wherever feel like it – instead of having to wait to find some free time to sit down and make a phone call. Just to say “have a good day!”, “good luck on that exam/interview!” or “I love you”. Facetime has made it wonderfully possible for us to see our loved ones’ faces and have a chat in those times between visits in person (which I LOVE, because sometimes I just miss my kids’ FACES, you know?) It seems that technology does help relationships endure over time and distance. It’s much more difficult to let relationships fade when it’s so easy to be in touch.

Keith Hampton, PhD, an associate professor of communication and public policy communication at Rutgers University states “Our findings are very clear and consistent, that users of social networks tend to have more close relationships, not just online, but in real life.” Studies showed that people who use technology are also the heaviest users of public spaces, such as restaurants, religious centers and cafes (Ah-ha! The Panera story from a few paragraphs ago …!) They also suggested that people who utilize Facebook and instant messaging have more close ties – more friends willing/able to offer advice, companionship and lend a hand, if needed. These technologies also make it much easier to ASK for that help!

Bottom line: There are many pros and cons here, and we’ve just barely scratched the surface. This is a conversation/debate that could go on forever, I suppose.

As I write this, I’m sitting in front of the fire in a cozy house on a lake in Wisconsin. I look up to see that same best friend, her husband and my husband all staring intently at their respective iPads. While right outside the window, 2 bald eagles sit perched on stumps jutting up out of the frozen lake. Seriously. Literally 150 yards away from us. And here we are, acting like we’ve never played solitaire/need that recipe/seen that hilarious dog video before. But I’m not worried. This is just a small snapshot of a deep friendship that started over 25 years ago. We’ve had countless adventures, made hundreds of memories, laughed until we cried, and sometimes just cried together.

I’m positive I just saw the eagles shaking their bald heads at us.