The age of intimacy famine: when we interact with our phones rather than our loved ones

Like most humans, I want intimacy. But as a developmental psychologist, I consider intimacy a fundamental human need. Sharing feelings, embraces, intellectual conversations, sex – these intimate moments are often the touchstones of a rich human experience. Yet millions of people worldwide are isolated and lonely, woefully lacking in the meaningful and diverse social experiences that help support emotional and physical health.

Teens are spending most of their waking hours online, eschewing in-person gatherings for online chats, games and Netflix. And even those of us with socially rich networks sometimes long for flashes of intimacy, like hugs from friends or sex with lovers, amid the doldrum of our daily lives.

As modern life has grown more distanced through technological innovation, our opportunities for deep, intimate moments have dwindled. The pandemic has only exacerbated this trend, prohibiting or impeding many types of friendly and professional これらの写真で欲望と拒絶の影を読むかもしれません and sending many of us deeper into our online worlds.

This has left many of us starving. We’ve entered an intimacy famine.

How much you’ve been affected depends partly on your objective experience, and mostly on your perspective. Which set of words best describes your last two years:

1. Close, connected, loved, embraced and full or

2. Distanced, disconnected, lonely, exhausted and empty?

If you chose the second set, you’re not alone. Though the pandemic might have accelerated our feelings of social deprivation, we were already on this course, staring at our phones as if they hold the answer to our woes. そして, ironically, perhaps they do.

As I’ve written the words you’ve just read, I’ve checked my Facebook, インスタグラム, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds multiple times. なぜ? Stated simply, I and the 53% of the adults across the world who use social media must believe that using those platforms are worth the cost.

Stated not so simply, my relationship with social media is … complicated.

My declaration concerning my relationship status with social media is bold: I’m actually in a relationship with my phone. Through its lights, sounds and vibrations, my phone makes bids for attention, and I respond. Much like the way I respond to others in my life who make these bids (eg, my husband and children), I turn to it, attend to it and seek to resolve the issue that prompted the alert.

My phone is probably the most demanding entity in my world. I have taught my students that responsiveness is one of the crucial elements of parenting and one of the most important things you can do as a parent to nurture a child. Hence through my responsiveness to my phone’s demands, I have nurtured it as well. But it’s not only responsiveness that has solidified our relationship. I carefully wipe its screen to remove smudges (social grooming). I carry it with me everywhere I go in either my purse, hand or pocket (skin-to-screen bonding). I get nervous if I cannot find it (separation anxiety). We are bonded, and I am smitten.

This relationship has not gone unnoticed by others in my orbit. Along with family scientist Brandon McDaniel, I have been exploring the ways in which technology is interfering in dyadic relationships via the little everyday interruptions in our interactions, termed technoference. 以来 2016, McDaniel and I, along with other researchers around the world, have found some consistent trends.

Specifically, people sometimes choose to interact with their phones over the human others in their lives, and this can cause conflict and jealousy in couple, family and friend relationships. In turn, this conflict and jealousy is related to lower levels of relationship satisfaction, and it also compromises intimacy.

残念ながら, this technology interference is affecting some of us almost every day. In our 2019 study on the topic, McDaniel and I employed a daily diary study, where we asked both members of a romantic couple to chart the technoference they experienced and their feelings every day over 14 日々.

The findings were striking. Most couples (72%) reported technoference in their interactions with their partner over the course of the two weeks. More important, on the days that participants reported more technoference, they also reported more conflict over technology, less positive face-to-face interactions with their partner, and more negativity regarding their moods and feelings about their relationships.

Why might we feel so rebuffed when a partner or friend chooses to interact with a phone as opposed to us? According to the theory of symbolic interactionism, our interactions with others are laced with messages, and those messages help us determine our role in that person’s life. When a person elects to attend to their phone rather than to us, especially when we are making efforts to engage them, it sends the symbol that the phone is more important than we are. Even if this is only a momentary experience, it can feel like rejection, registering as a relationship cost.

THEur decision to stay in a relationship involves a constant evaluation of the costs and benefits of that relationship. Essentially, we are keeping tally of pluses and minuses for our partners – and to stay invested and committed, a balance must be struck.

In my relationship with my phone, the balance always tips in its favor. もちろん, there are costs: it is my biggest distraction from my work, family and friends.

Regardless of where I am, when an email or text pops up, I feel compelled to check it. I also fall into rabbit holes of inquiry that start with reading a simple article about Fyodor Dostoevsky’s conceptualization of love and end two hours later having read about the definition of love according to 20 different philosophers.

Thanks to the documentary The Social Dilemma and other recent commentaries on the tech industry, I now understand that these compulsions are rooted in purposeful design. Although I understand why I fall prey, I still recognize myself as prey, and that leaves me discontented.

From a larger, societal standpoint, phones and technology use may also be causing discontent. In the early 21st century, there has been much media attention directed toward the research of US psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues. Their studies have demonstrated a rise in rates of depression and anxiety corresponding to increased rates of technology use among US adolescents and young adults over the past decade.

The argument goes something like this: technology helps us form relationships, もちろん. Yet now everyone is sitting in their bedroom, on their phones and computers, and by connecting with others online, they are missing out on the face-to- face interactions that help keep us happy and feeling socially connected. Even worse, going online and on social media is making us stressed, lonely and depressed.

The acquisition of social capital helps us feel good about ourselves in the “I was able to make this friend/connection and therefore I must be good” kind of way. Recent studies with US adolescents have shown that the more online social capital you have, the more likely you are going to experience stress when exposed to online risk (eg, information breaches and exposure to explicit content). But this might be an “all eggs in one basket” phenomenon; social capital distributed across online and off-line contexts would probably offer a more protective effect.

Through our social networks, we gather information about ourselves. How much are we liked? Do others care about what we say? How do our lives compare with those of others? Suddenly we have become the guards at the center of the panopticon.

As humans, we spend a good amount of time thinking about what other people think. Although this is not meant to be a controversial proposition, I am sure that some of you are saying to yourselves, "番号, I don’t do that,” or “I don’t care what other people think.” This is understandable. Any opposition you might feel to this statement might stem from well-meaning advice givers, who in an effort to direct you away from self-criticism and anxiety emerging from others’ evaluations, have assured you that what other people think of you does not matter.

It’s absolutely normal to think (and care) about what other people think. It’s a sign that you’re attuned to your social surroundings. And according to the social brain hypothesis, these kinds of complex social interactions are the reason we have larger brains than other vertebrates. More than that, it’s a sign that you need (and care) about people and their feelings. You’re attached, and attachment to others can help us weather all kinds of storms.

This is why I’d never propose giving up your smartphone or doing a phone detox. 代わりに, accept your attachment to your phone for what it is: you clinging to a lifeline that connects you to important people in your world.

いくつかのための, like many young adults I teach and research, the shape of intimacy is morphing so much that the drips they get through texts and social media are enough to sustain connection. ほかの人のため, 私のような, in-person interactions where we are drenched in touch, and laughter, and nonverbal cues, may be what we crave.

But for all of us, we need to strike a balance, letting our daily technology drips supplement and facilitate deeper, in-person moments. And whether we’re texting our friends or meeting a loved one for dinner, it’s our want to connect and our vulnerability once we get there that are the makings of an intimate life.

This is an edited excerpt from Out of Touch: How to Survive an Intimacy Famine by Michelle Drouin, published by MIT Press

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