Have you ever been sitting around the dining table at home, completely immersed in Facebook and Instagram, and totally ignoring the world around you? Have you ever walked past a table at a restaurant where every person was looking down at his or her phone? Social disengagement and immersion in technology seems to be a common problem in modern society, particularly when it comes to friendships and relationships. In an age where we are constantly available to anyone who has our phone number, email address or Facebook details, it can be difficult to spend genuine, valuable time, actively engaged with our partner or friends in conversations and other shared activities. This constant connection using modern technology can create an illusion of increased connectivity, but at what cost?
Many of the communications we receive through our devices are superficial – alerts to view a distant acquaintance’s holiday pics, ads from shops we once purchased from or charities we once donated $10 to. We also receive emails related to work, catching up with friends through a messaging service, or viewing some artistic photographs through Instagram. You may even be achieving level 132 on a game you have been working on in your spare time for a number of weeks.
This constant stimulation and abundance of digital social and leisure experiences may seem like a blessing – we no longer need to feel bored or as though we have nobody to communicate with. There is always a game to play, news story to read, photo album to browse or chatroom to seek connection through. However, these experiences are presented to us in a medium that is designed to be addictive. Therefore, they often come at the expense of our real relationships. We can be constantly in contact with other people, but isolated and unfulfilled in our day-to-day life.
Many of the connections we build with people through the internet have a very different quality to them – there is an ease with which we can filter our lives and experiences on social media by posting only our most attractive photos, most interesting and impressive experiences and our wittiest thoughts. Through Facebook messenger stickers and emoticons we can now have an entire digital conversation without writing many words at all. Whilst we may be happier with the image others are receiving of us, the person they are getting to know is a less authentic version. The person people know through the internet may not truly be us.
Social media has also affected our relationships because, by increasing the immediacy of communication, it has decreased our need for commitment. Gone are the days of landline phones, where a time and location are set well in advance, plans are made to facilitate being able to attend the meeting and apologies are profuse if non-attendance occurs. Now, meeting times and places may not be decided until the last minute through a group chat, and ‘Maybe’ is an acceptable RSVP option until an hour after the event started, at which point you are five episodes into the latest series of ‘House of Cards’ and you really just want to know what happens next… ‘I’m too lazy to get ready now’ might be a common reaction. In the end, this reduces our ability to consider options, make decisions and follow through with responsibilities.
The other effect of this increase in connectivity and activity is that we are never really alone and unoccupied anymore – because there is always a new post on Facebook to read, game to play or TV series to ‘binge watch’, we are easily able to avoid confronting and processing negative internal experiences, and there is less need to engage in creative thought. This can play the role of maintaining psychological problems because we can so easily distract ourselves, avoid addressing the root of the issue and have less activities that leave us feeling fulfilled and accomplished, because most of our leisure time is spent consuming, rather than creating.
This new age of technology is an exciting one – there is so much information out there to learn and apply to our lives. However, it is important to consider the psychological costs of excessive technology use so that we can implement healthier patterns of device use and social interactions.