Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why Technology Isn't Ruining Our Relationships

I have read many articles lately bemoaning the effects of technology on true, personal interactions.  These arguments have irked me just a little bit more each time I came across them.

It’s true, we no longer write letters and send them snail mail.  I’m sure the contents of our email correspondence are less thoughtful, possibly shorter. We stare into our phones, "liking" captioned pictures of cats and giving advice to strangers, while sitting at a silent dinner with our spouses, who are doing the same.  We disappear into iPads on our commute home, neglecting to stop and smell the “roses” (the urine-scented mold of the subway) and make small talk with the friendly commuter beside us (a drunk, sweaty teen).  We hide behind hashtags, acronyms and emoticons.  We don’t call to set up a lunch date, even though that quick phone call could lead to catching up in ways that we won’t get to do over lunch.  It’s easier to text.  We see our friends less often than we’d like to, and substitute reunions with group email chains.  Maybe we shouldn’t be so “busy” all the time.  
But we also get to see pictures of college roommates’ kids and pets daily, tell childhood friends details about our lives that would not have made it on paper, and respond “unsubscribe” to emails from frat boy cousins attaching unsavory pictures.  We email people who would never receive traditional mail from us, and text those whom we would not bother calling.  We wish happy birthdays to otherwise forgotten high school classmates, and congratulate Facebook friends on new jobs, apartments and accomplishments.  Maybe “happy bday” from the girl who sat behind you in 7th grade Social Studies is ultimately meaningless to you; maybe not.   
Because of the "obsession with," "overreliance on," and "domination of" electronic forms of communication, I know more about my friend’s daily activities in Germany than about my neighbors’ lives.  But no, that’s not exactly what they mean when they complain about our online lives taking over.  The fact that I’m aware Masha had beer and olives for lunch does not come at the expense of my involvement in my community at home.  When my neighbors and I have nothing in common but a zip code, I’ll spend my time reconnecting with friends further away, and finding others who share my interest of gardening, zebras, or French.  We may even form true friendships.
Yes, electronic communication also means I don’t have to visit my friend to see her new baby.  After all, she live-tweeted the entire labor and delivery in more detail than I would want to know about my own childbirth experience.  I can even have Amazon ship her a diaper bag; “gift option”? yes, please.  But I should visit her, it’s what people do.  When she starts accepting guests, I should come over and help her break up the monotony of days with a newborn.  I’ll listen to her birth story (pretending I didn’t throw up in my mouth repeatedly when I read about it online 5 minutes after it happened), and maybe even watch her baby as she indulges in a much needed shower.  And I assume she would do that for me.
I don’t feel unconnected, overconnected, or lonely, as they say I might, despite my hundreds of "friends," "connections," or "followers,” and it would be silly to attempt enumerating all the ways in which our real lives have been enriched by our online existence.  The list is endless and irrefutable, and your phone book and community center have nothing on it. 
Have our relationships with the people physically closest suffered as a result?  Perhaps, but only if we have let this happen.  
What we are missing, and mourning the loss of, is not pre-internet times of genuine connection between people.  Rather, it’s good old fashioned nostalgia; we miss the past, inevitably better, because we were younger then.  We are becoming hyper aware of the difference between a game of paintball in the woods with 20 people, and a game of "kill everyone" (I'm not up on video game trends but I think that's the usual concept) alone in your room, against 100 others alone in their rooms.  We’re increasingly sensitive to the need to put our phones away once in a while.  So your preference for Candy Crush and Facebook poking instead of game nights and dating is your fault.  There’s a way to reap the benefits of technology without losing the human touch, and blame yourself, not the existence of internet, if you can’t strike a balance.  Real and cyber lives do not have to be mutually exclusive; your internet interactions should be enjoyed responsibly.

No comments: