According to recent estimates, we pick up our smartphones over 85 times a day and spend an average of 25 hours online every week. Using our connected devices more and more each day, our relationships are being impacted, both positively and negatively, by that use.
Obvious benefits include staying in touch with loved ones, friends and colleagues. With Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video-calling services such as Skype for instance, it’s now possible and affordable to maintain relationships over extremely long distances. This is particularly beneficial for people working and studying abroad, including the military and armed forces, who can stay connected where money is tight, or where travel isn’t necessarily possible. Personally, having group WhatsApp’s with my family networks in the Far East has been such a joy as it has allowed us to share in each other’s trial and tribulations, despite being continents apart.
The darker side to this connectivity, however, is just how reliant we have become on technology. If we are messaging all the time, we’re likely to also be worrying about when the other person is going to reply. If they don’t respond right away, we start to worry, stalk them on social media, double text and call. All of this can even lead to paranoia, conflict and anger, when in reality, they’re probably just in the shower or stuck in a meeting.
When it comes to romantic relationships, this behaviour can be toxic. Paranoid actions, such as stalking on social media, spying and going through a partner’s phone can destroy otherwise good relationships if accusations are found to be groundless. Plus, even if it does transpire that your partner is unfaithful, rummaging through their personal possessions is still an unsavoury way of conducting relationships.
The ubiquity of technology is also allowing couples to deceive their partners in an underhand manner by providing ample temptations and opportunities to stray. It therefore comes as no surprise that adultery is the second largest cause for marriage breakdown in the UK today. Barriers to online and physical affairs, as well as pornography are nearly non-existent due to the ease of such opportunities afforded by technology. Couples, therefore, need to work much harder at their relationships, because it’s so easy to slip.
Technology has also changed how we approach our work. The traditional 9-5 work culture is giving way to flexible home working. This has been particularly advantageous to working parents giving them the freedom and flexibility to fit work around family life. This has also resulted in the sharp increase of female entrepreneurs and a shift in societal attitudes and believing that that women can have it all.
However, technology is undoubtedly having some negative impacts, as often work-life boundaries are now blurred. With overbearing employers and demanding clients now within instant mobile reach, many of us have become slaves to our work virtually 24/7. As a result of this ‘always on’ culture and lack of work-life balance, adults spend almost an equal amount of time at home online (38%) as they do interacting with others face-to-face.
One in four mobile users in a relationship or marriage also believe their partner is too distracted by their phone, according to research from Macaque, proving the adverse implications that technology can have on relationships. The study also reported that busy, tech-using families work longer hours and are less likely to share meals and to be satisfied with their family and leisure time.
Whether for personal or professional use, technology has also been the cause of people failing to take responsibility for their actions. People generally avoid in-person confrontation if they can help it, so ‘hiding’ behind the cloak of invisibility of technology makes it easy for people to send angry, hurtful messages to their partners or colleagues. It has been shown that one of the biggest indicators of relationship success is how well couples manage and resolve their conflict face to face and this form of communication via electronic media is not conducive to proper relationship conflict resolution.
We cannot put the technology ‘genie’ back in the bottle, so the way forward is better use and management – we need to ensure that tech is serving us and not let it be our master.
We must set limits, create clear boundaries for ourselves and be very mindful of how much time we spend scrolling every day. By understanding the impact tech is having on our close relationships, we will then realise the value in disconnecting from social media for a ‘cleanse’ occasionally to save the relationships that are important to us.
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