Technology and Relationships Part 1

On a recent trip I needed to borrow my 16 year old son’s phone. We’d been rear ended by another car and after the traditional exchange of insurance information, I needed to fill my wife in on what had happened. My iPhone had been unreliable of late so I asked to use his. When he handed it to me I naturally looked to the bottom of the home screen where I expected to see the phone app that would allow me to make the call.

I was surprised to find that the bottom screen had only 3 of the 4 spots filled but none of the 3 was the phone app. Knowing that some people have their own strategic placement for their oft used apps, I glanced at the other icons on the main screen but still didn’t see the phone. Handing it back to him, I asked him where it was. He flipped through the screens till he came to the right folder which he opened and brought the phone out for me to use.

I asked him why in the world, with a space available on the main bar, did he not have his phone there but instead hidden away in a folder? His response was enlightening: “I never use the phone cause I never call anyone.” When I shared that story with my daughter who’s only a year younger, she didn’t see anything unusual about that because she never calls anyone either.

That’s when it hit me that my two teenagers have expensive phones and use them gratuitously but hardly ever to actually speak to another person. Don’t misunderstand. They use their phone to communicate (think: Twitter, Facebook, texting, etc…) but just not to talk to people. This brings to mind the quote by J. B. Priestly who died in 1984: “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”

Enter Sherry Turkle whose new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, has prompted an important conversation. As the title suggests Turkle, an MIT professor, has new research that shows what we already intuitively know mainly that while we are always connected we are more lonely than ever before.

In the article “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” Stephen Marche cites studies showing that close friendships have dramatically decreased over the past 25 years. Between 1985 and 2004 the average size of personal confidants shrank from 2.94 to 2.08. In 1985 only 10% of Americans said that they had no one with whom they could discuss important matters. By 2004, 25% had no one to talk to.

I would like to think about this topic over the next few Thursdays here at ESI. With that in mind, I’d like to leave you with a few questions to think about, and if the urge strikes you, answer in the comments.

1. When you are with other people, how often do you find yourself checking your email, sending or receiving texts or tweets, checking FB, etc…? Have you established any device free zones or times such as a walk with your spouse or dinner with friends or family?

2. How many close friends do you have? When you have important personal matters to discuss, who do you sit down with and open up to?

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