Technology has changed the way in which we meet, interact, and stay in touch with one another. On one hand, it has refined the dating process with fancy dating apps and enabled an explosion of ways to stay in touch over ridiculous distances. We have the League, Tinder, and Hinge offering each of us our flavor of a mating catalogue. We can cook together over Skype, chat, order gifts online, and post on Walls. On the other hand, technology is altering what we have understood as human love for centuries. And I argue that what we crave hasn’t caught up to these shifts, leaving us confused, dissatisfied, and having more misunderstandings than ever before:
1. We are losing our ability to develop a shared, non-verbal language; we touch less.
A shared non-verbal language of touch is created between two people, over time. When we did not have text and e-mail to use, most (if not all)) relationship communication had to be done in person or by phone. The more one communicates – truly communicates – with another in-person, including eye contact, touch, posture, and facial expressions, the more one learns to read the other. We learn to understand what the other person is NOT saying, so that we are more attuned to their needs and emotions. Furthermore, we have more ways of delivering comfort – a press of the hand, a kiss on the forehead, a shoulder massage.
With technology, it’s too easy to just register a non-verbal cue and turn it off to return the The Screen. More importantly, over time, as more and more communication is done over text or phone between two people, we forget the other tools and become lazy — especially if we’re too busy. For example, if you’ve’ already told your wife over text and phone that you love her, you’re probably less inclined in person, when other things are competing for your attention. And in general, words are just easier to toss around these days, losing some of their appeal and value, with no commensurate increase in touch to make up for it. I don’t think that we have yet evolved to need touch less or find it any less gratifying, but we’re truly connecting less. We are dangerously robbing ourselves of another crucial love language.
2. Sexual imagery and pornography are taking up our mind space, and chipping away at our ability to be satisfied by our significant others.
We have had television, films, and pornographic magazines for awhile, but now, more than ever, the next naked and airbrushed body is a click away. Studies have shown that prolonged use of pornography has a detrimental impact on one’s ability to be satisfied with their spouse; eventually, this may also impact desire and a healthy sex life with the person. Yes, in some cases, pornography has helped stimulate people’s sex lives. However, if we’re constantly bombarded by novelty and visual stimulation that illustrates all that we don’t have, we are far more likely to experience more and more desire for those other things – I would bet people are fantasizing much more often about others, as technology hijacks our imagination. Often, when people turn to virtual partners of sex chat rooms, we say that they have a “problem,” but my guess is that this “problem” will only increase.
3. Text, chat, and e-mail is lowering the barriers to communicate with the opposite sex, leading to careless and confusing signals.
Back in the day, I remember waiting days, if not weeks, for a guy to call me (or write a love note to me) after we met – to ask me out. It just was not acceptable to text or e-mail. The first time that I dealt with e-mail communication was in graduate school. I’d met this amazing guy who sent an e-mail minutes after we had met saying how nice it was and how he hopes to see me soon. Since then, with my experiences, I cannot help but think that e-mail and text are a great low-risk way to explore the beginnings of a new “association,” but it makes the message far less clear. When a guy actually picks up the phone and invites you out, there’s far less room for confusion; and if there is confusion about what each of you really wants (sex, relationship, company, etc.), it’ll become far clearer when you meet sooner rather than later.
4. Technology deprives us of the space we need in a healthy relationship, as we’re “accessible” around the clock.
With phone or in person meetings, two people can develop a mutually agreed upon cadence. There is no one-way conversation. E-mail, text, and chat make it too easy for one person to be communicating significantly more. Then, the question arises: Is the other person ignoring me? What’s wrong? Etc. Further, when trust is eroded, it makes it too easy to try and keep up with other person, and “wonder” if he or she is not reachable. In general, since we can be in touch literally constantly, there’s greater room for misunderstanding on what it means to be in touch when you’re not face-to-face or the phone. It may even require an explicit talk.
5. Social media is making it easier to keep up with exes “out of curiosity.”
Exes were much harder to reach before. Either you became friends – to the level mutually desired – or you stopped talking. Now, you don’t even have to be friends with them to be Facebook friends and have a glimpse into their new lives with so-and-so. This may increase the welcome probability that down-the-line you’ll reconnect, but it can also breed unhealthy Facebook “checking,” meaningless banter, psychological comparisons, and a barrier to being able to move on – especially if the break-up was not mutual. Maybe, it is better to only be friends with exes on Facebook if you are actually “friends” – like you actually talk and catch up now and then (if we still do that …)? If he or she is in fact, that important, you’ll certainly reach out to one another by phone, e-mail, etc. when the time is right. Women and men across the non-platonic spectrum are too readily available online – even after you’re dating someone else and married, which means different things to different people.
6. Technology enhances our perception of “true” options, making it more difficult to take decisive action in relationships.
I am not saying that technology is affecting how readily we fall in love . . . at least, not yet. But what I am saying is that we may be less likely to start a serious relationship and commit. We are constantly reminded of people we cannot be with at the moment because they are out of our reach. We are smothered with the façade of other happy couples and relationships. We are lured by our growing list of attractive acquaintances. In most cases, technology does not do a good job of highlighting why someone else is unique, why he or she is special to us, and the great things that we have going for us.
7. And last but not least, a rather obvious one: technology is eating away at time we could spend connecting with our loved ones.
We’ve all seen the couple on their phones while at a romantic dinner – whether it is work or simply boredom. It is different from the vintage scene of an old couple, each reading a newspaper while sitting on a porch and sipping tea. That was shared silence and love. This is the need for every minute of our lives to be filled with online “action”, unhealthy working habits, and anti-social behavior at its worst. Every minute we spend on technology – whether or not in the company of another – is one less minute we have for everything else – including touch, sex, having real conversations, breathing room, getting to know who is right there in front of us today, and committing.
Technology is excellent for supplementing relationships, but it really should not be used to “replace” any aspect of a relationship. The moment you notice it is replacing a part of your relationship, it is probably time to realize you’re starting a competing relationship with your seductive device – putting love in peril.