Even though you may not have ever heard the word, chances are, you’ve already figured out what it means. And chances also are that you’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the future. That’s because a preoccupation with electronic devices and data is undermining essential aspects of our lives particularly those that strengthen and enhance physical, emotional, and spiritual health and well being. These aspects tend to be the first things that get pre-empted in favor of our growing increase in dependence and preoccupation with electronic technology.
If you’re a regular reader of our postings, you’ve probably read about what has become known as “technoference” here before, even though this is the first time that we’ve used the term in a blog or newsletter.
We’re not testing your tolerance by addressing this subject more than once, but rather we’re trying to impress upon our readers the insidious dangers and risks involved in developing what can only be described as an addictive relationship with technology, and to provide encouragement to take steps to become less compulsive in this area.
One of the reasons that it can be so difficult to interrupt or diminish the influence that technology has in our lives, is that there is an overwhelmingly powerful cultural influence that is hard to escape. None of us exist in a vacuum, and like it or not, we are all subject to the expectations and norms that are held by the communities in which we live and operate. Consequently, if most of the people in your network of friends, co-workers, and relatives operate under the expectation that they and everyone else, need to be available and reachable 100% of the time, 24/7, then that includes you. And if for some inexplicable reason you are not, you are obligated to respond to the caller, e-mailer, or texter, immediately, as in within the next 90 seconds. Failure to do so in a timely manner may, as many of us know from experience, result in dire consequences, for the transgressor. That would be you.
Although we all live in what is fast becoming a technofering world, fortunately, there are ways in which we can deal with the cultural drift towards technical overload. We do not have to become slaves to social expectations, and running the risk of causing grave harm to our health and well-being. Unfortunately, it is often the case that we don’t recognize the crisis that we’re already in until we’ve been in it long enough to become entrenched. And an entrenched habit is one that is much harder to break than one that is being newly formed.
A large number of researchers, writers, and social scientists have already pointed out that the canary in the coal mine has died, but it’s easy to invalidate their input by insisting that people aren’t canaries and anyway, we wouldn’t let that happen to us. Except it already is happening. Cecile Andres, a leader in the Voluntary Simplicity movement, reports in her survey that North American couples spend an average of twelve minutes a day talking together. If a relationship is a living organism that requires adequate attention, care, and nurturance in order to thrive, most committed partnerships are barely surviving on starvation rations.
Sarah Coyne, who coined (no pun intended) the term “technoference” is a professor in Brigham Young University’s Department of Family Life. She conducted a study that was completed in 2014 in which she sampled 140 women in committed partnerships and found that over 75% of them reported that cell phones had a significant negative impact on their ability to connect with their partner. Those women also reported that they found themselves getting into increasingly more fights with their partner, which in turn left them not only feeling badly about the relationship, but also depressed and less satisfied with their lives in general.
And Ms. Coyne is not alone in her conclusions. There is a growing body of psychology research that is examining the question of how an increased reliance on technology is affecting intimate relationships, particularly when used during meals and intimate experiences. According to a Harris Interactive poll, one third of those adults interviewed reported having used their phones while on dinner dates. Included in the poll, entitled: “Americans Can’t Put Down Their Smart Phones Even During Sex”, nearly 20% of smart phone owners ages 18 to 34 report having used their phone while having sex! (exclamation point added).
Electronic devices are reported by many couples to be the source of arguments especially when used during meals and at other times when there is a hope or expectation that there will be an opportunity for meaningful interpersonal relating.
And it’s not just the women who are complaining. Christine Leggett and Pieter Rossouw, in the International Journal of Neuropsychotherapy (2014) report, “this era of enhanced digital connectivity allows humans to engage and disconnect continuously during face-to-face interactions”. With a sample of twenty-one couples, they found that their sense of safety, control, and attachment was lowered, and that due to an excessive use of technical devices, the couples were more likely to have a negative perception of the relationship.
One antidote to this new stressor to romantic relationships is for couples to strategically plan “device-free time” with each other. Engaging in activities, like going on hikes or bike rides, in which all electronic devices are left at home, makes a big difference. Planning parts of each weekend in which all devices are off-limits has been shown to be helpful in breaking the compulsive need to be on-line, 24/7. Many couples have learned the hard way that radical steps need to be taken in order to avert possibly much more radical outcomes, such as divorce.
In the end, each couple is on their own in regard to negotiating the terms that will work for them to ration their screen time in order to make time available for the kinds of connection that will keep their bond strong.
In all cases, it’s not a matter of doing what you’re “supposed to do” or “what everyone “expects you to do” but of doing what is necessary in order to keep your relationship healthy and worth keeping alive. If things deteriorate too far, then even the motivation to do that can dissolve. If that occurs you’ve gone beyond the point of diminishing returns, and into the territory of the point of no return. If you wait until you get to that point to find the motivation to break the spell of technoference, the odds are that you’ve waiting too long. And that’s a long shot that even a professional gambler wouldn’t take.
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