Why do people feel such a strong connection to their devices? We have all probably been at a dinner with a spouse, friend, or family member who reaches for their phone and scrolls through social media or texts. The person on the receiving end probably feels annoyed, ignored and maybe even rejected. There is a growing body of research on "technoference" which refers to the interference and effects of smartphones and other devices on our relationships. A study from the Pew Research Center shows that over 50% of people say they "can't live without" their smartphones. Research in a forthcoming paper in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests that evolution has wired our brains to connect with others for survival through self-disclosure and responsiveness. Modern day social networking sites like Facebook or Instagram seem to feed that need through cuing us to respond to others' posts. Unfortunately, some of us give in to the powerful pull our devices have on us which can create disconnect and conflict in our relationships.
We all are guilty of being drawn into our devices at times, but some are obsessed with their smartphones and will chose their device over a live human. In many ways interacting with a device is easier and safer than speaking face to face with someone. We don't have to respond immediately and can eliminate the nonverbal expression through a device. Sometimes people feel they can be more open and candid in their responses and have more control over the conversation since they can choose to no longer respond. Technology has changed our world so much in the last 15-20 years and we can't ignore it or get away from it completely, nor would we want to. There are many positive consequences from moving to a digital world, but we need to be cautious about the impact it can have on our relationships. Our social relationships now include technology and we need to be aware of the impact.
How do we prevent our devices from pulling us apart? When it comes to smartphone use, we need to be aware of the timing, the setting, and also consider our immediate circumstances. We need to have clear boundaries when we are with the people we love. For instance, if we are out with our spouse on a date night, we may agree to turn our cellphones off or on silent and only respond if there is an emergency. Or maybe we turn them off at a certain time of the day or create a block of time to be device-free over the weekend. Our attention is divided and we are distracted from our conversation when we allow our phones to consume us. Sometimes couples try to work through their conflicts via text which often doesn't end well. Building connection, trust, and intimacy is difficult enough, but allowing another possible distractor to interfere can make life more complicated. Face-to face interactions are still the best way to create a strong connection and deal with conflict constructively. Make a decision to limit your device driven activity and instead engage directly with those you love, especially about personal and intimate topics.