INTIMACY and TECHNOLOGY
Intimacy and technology is a more complex subject than it may seem. This topic consists of many facets. The smart phone as well as Facebook and other technological advances have changed people’s lives in beneficial and detrimental ways. This post will explore intimacy and technology from my perspective as well as other writers’ thoughts on the subject.
As I pondered the subject of intimacy, I realized how life has changed. Decades ago, neighbors and friends might knock on one’s door unannounced. Hospitality was a given. Even with plain, old phones, individuals still would stop by someone’s house spontaneously.
No matter what the distance, it is easier now to communicate with friends and family. Many families and friends are geographically dispersed. Phone costs are much lower (especially on an international basis) than in the past.
In some ways – even with the benefits of modern communication technology – it is more challenging to remain close to a person when distance is involved or even when the person lives close to you or when a person even resides in your household!
Several technological options that most of us use infrequently or everyday to communicate are listed below. I also share some of my thoughts which are still in the process of forming.
E-mail. A person can wait to respond, measure words, or choose not to respond.
Texting. A decent way to convey facts and information. Lacks emotional content (even with emoji). Hard for person to show genuine compassion and other feelings. It is easier for many to text instead of making a phone call. With a text, no chance needs to be taken that the person you call is willing or able to speak with you right then. If you are the receiver of a phone call, you choose whether to answer or not. You decide if you are willing to answer and either talk right then or to kindly say, “It’s not a good time. Can I call you later?” There is more vulnerability and possible awkwardness with a phone call, especially if you are not in the habit of making them due to texting.
It is harder to know in a text if a person is irritated or upset or impatient or sad. Oh, sometimes we think we know how someone is by words in a text; but, how many times are we incorrect in our thoughts? Maybe a phone call and the voice intonation is needed to truly comprehend someone’s emotional state and to possibly react with compassion or understanding or curiosity.
Texting allows a slight wall between people.
Texting can be a means to be connected to someone almost every moment of the day. You know where they are and what they are doing. I am glad smart phones were not available when I was enmeshed in the domestic violence (DV) relationship of decades with my former husband. What tracking of others’ moves an abuser and a human traffickers can do now.
Facebook. I am not yet on Facebook. Others tell me of the good and bad points. I’ve noticed that many take breaks from Facebook. Superficiality is the word that most use (whether they like being a part of Facebook or not). The most beneficial comment I hear is that Facebook is a good way to share photos.
An eye-opening article appeared in The Atlantic called, “The Binge Breaker: Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.” (See: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/11/the-binge-breaker/501122/)
Bianca Bosker writes in “The Binge Breaker”:
“Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience. As the co‑founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group, he is trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices.”
“He is rallying product designers to adopt a “Hippocratic oath” for software that, he explains, would check the practice of “exposing people’s psychological vulnerabilities” and restore “agency” to users. “There needs to be new ratings, new criteria, new design standards, new certification standards,” he says. “There is a way to design based not on addiction.”
“McDonald’s hooks us by appealing to our bodies’ craving for certain flavors; Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter hook us by delivering what psychologists call “variable rewards.” Messages, photos, and “likes” appear on no set schedule, so we check for them compulsively, never sure when we’ll receive that dopamine-activating prize. (Delivering rewards at random has been proved to quickly and strongly reinforce behavior.) Checking that Facebook friend request will take only a few seconds, we reason, though research shows that when interrupted, people take an average of 25 minutes to return to their original task.”
Phone. Each person is able to hear the voice of the other. You can hear the emotion or lack of emotion in the person’s voice. The phone avails us to be in silence together knowing the other individual is still on the line.
Skype. Voice and in the moment video of each person speaking. Body language and facial expression can be seen.
In person. Energy can be felt and sensed. A person’s non-stated anger, sadness, love, etc. can be felt without words. Each person has the benefits of voice intonation, body language, and facial expressions. You have the ability to reach out and touch someone – literally. A hug can be experienced, a tender touch felt…
Andrew Sullivan wrote a beautiful and honest article in the New York Magazine titled, “I Used to Be a Human Being”. (http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-technology-almost-killed-me.html) I highly recommend taking the time to read his article. Sullivan writes:
“But of course, as I had discovered in my blogging years, the family that is eating together while simultaneously on their phones is not actually together. They are, in Turkle’s formulation, “alone together.” You are where your attention is. If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend, you’re not fully with your child — and he knows it. Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.”
What is your definition of intimacy? How close do you want to be with a spouse, a significant other, a friend, your adult child, your parent, or anyone?
There are individuals that you may see in person often, even daily, and the intimacy level is not deep. Just think, decades ago writing letters was a skill and a tool of communication. Friends and families were sometimes challenged to remain close via letters. Not everyone succeeded. Intent, motivation, and love are keys to intimacy.
Do you want genuine and authentic relationships? How much depth do you seek in your close relationships?
The issues and questions regarding intimacy & technology are thought-provoking. I have owned a smart phone for a relatively short amount of time compared to others. There are benefits to not having texting available as well as to using it now. I see both sides of the coin. Owning a laptop also makes life easier and connects me to the world-at-large as well as to individuals. Person to person contact is extremely important for intimacy to contain depth.
David Brooks’ article titled, “Intimacy for the Avoidant” is well worth reading. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/opinion/intimacy-for-the-avoidant.html?_r=0) Brooks wrote:
“Over the past generation there seems to have been a decline in the number of high-quality friendships.”
“Perhaps phone addiction is making it harder to be the sort of person who is good at deep friendship. In lives that are already crowded and stressful, it’s easier to let banter crowd out emotional presence. There are a thousand ways online to divert with a joke or a happy face emoticon. You can have a day of happy touch points without any of the scary revelations, or the boring, awkward or uncontrollable moments that constitute actual intimacy.”
“When we’re addicted to online life, every moment is fun and diverting, but the whole thing is profoundly unsatisfying. I guess a modern version of heroism is regaining control of social impulses, saying no to a thousand shallow contacts for the sake of a few daring plunges.”
My favorite local coffee shop is dealing with the technology issues. There is a corner of comfy chairs as well as tables with regular chairs. First, there were not many outlets for people to connect their phones and laptops to recharge. Then, the owner made outlets easily accessible. Customers came to the coffee shop to work or to study. Some individuals used the cozy chairs (and tables) for hours as well as talking on the phone making business-related calls. There was less communication and conversation by customers who sat in the shop, especially on those chairs. In the past, strangers would connect to each other. Technology seemed to silence friendly person-to-person communication.
One day I noticed the outlets were removed. The regulars who were using the coffee shop as a business location frequent the place less. Once again, customers seem to be talking more to each other – at least on the circle of comfy chairs. Choices were made by the owner. Whether he made the choices for financial reasons or because he envisioned a certain culture for his shop, I do not know.
Choices can be made by each of us. Most communication technology in itself is not bad or good. Do we use technology as a tool to improve our lives and our relationships? Do we allow technology to control what we do and how we relate to others?
Is there anyone you would just call on the phone without giving it any thought? “Rules” or “norms” seem to be changing. I like being able to call a dear friend or have one call me.
Do you have someone you would call even in the middle of the night to talk when you were in dire straits emotionally or physically? I am grateful for those times I was able to call a friend no matter what the time of day (especially as I was dealing and healing with the past of abuse and torture). Loving connections on a deep level sometimes contain moments of inconvenience, awkwardness, and compassion!
What is your definition of a close friend or family member or significant other?
Technology also affects the relationship you have with yourself. Are you making time to know yourself, to sit in silence, to allow free flowing thoughts and emotions (comfortable or not) to enter into your mind and heart?
Arnie Kozak wrote an article titled, “The End of Solitude: Overtaken by Technology” which was quite enlightening. (http://www.quietrev.com/the-end-of-solitude-overtaken-by-technology/) She wrote:
“A 2014 study by Timothy Wilson and his research group at Harvard found that people have a disquieting time just being alone with their internal experiences. Subjects were asked to sit quietly in a room without distractions for up to 15 minutes. Half the sample did not enjoy the experience and more than half found it hard to concentrate.
In one variation of the study, subjects had the option of self-administering a shock (sufficiently noxious that prior to the study they said they’d pay money to avoid it). Two-thirds of the men (12 of 18) gave themselves at least one shock, while only one-quarter of the women did so (6 of 24). One outlier gave himself 190 shocks! Lest we think this just applies to digital natives who have been weaned on technology, the study was replicated across age groups with similar results.”
“Instead of checking your phone 46 times and your work email 74 times per day, focus on checking your breathing. Before responding to what’s in your inbox, pause and feel an entire breath moving through your body, from the air touching the tip of your nose down through your lungs and back out again.
Perhaps, after being with your breath in this way, you’ll decide to forego checking your inbox and continue working on the task at hand. This “obsessive” checking of breath creates a mindful pause, a running stitch of awareness that helps to build the buffers of absence that we so desperately need to focus efficiently and effectively.”
It is much easier to distract yourself from your own self.
It takes courage to be … to know yourself … to see your faults and talents and strengths … to accept yourself … to desire change in yourself and to work toward fulfilling those aspirations.
I find myself living with these questions about intimacy and technology. It is important to me that I make choices which lead me to deeper intimacy with others, with myself, and with the Divine.
As your life coach, I will listen to your thoughts, feelings, and aspirations. How do you want to live your life? How will technology enhance your existence on this earth? Does technology harm you at times?