Have you found it more difficult to connect with people lately? You might inadvertently be building walls between yourself and your friends, your family — and especially in your love life. In our ever faster-moving world, it is becoming more and more difficult to remain emotionally available to the important people in our lives. When we have trouble making emotional space for our loved ones, our relationships suffer.
If you’ve found it hard to find a spark face-to-face, your smartphone might be the reason. In her book “The Lonely Century”, author Noreena Hertz says that smartphones “have played an integral role [in] stealing our attention away from those around us”. If you’re looking down at your smartphone instead of playing the dating game in person, your love connections might be difficult to make and even harder to maintain.
There is a body of research that suggests that technology may negatively impact our romantic relationships. Hertz calls our collective social media habit “an addiction that is making us lonely”. In many ways, it brings us together; however, technology could be contributing to a loneliness epidemic. In fact, an entire vocabulary is cropping up to describe the specific ways our phones are keeping us apart.
Technoference: the interference of technology on our communication in relationships
The first of these terms describes the mental noise your devices create within your relationships. “Technoference” is the reason you want to reach for your phone on a date; it’s what prompts you to check social media during a romantic night in. Smartphones and other devices can be a constant source of distractions and interruptions, which can make it difficult to focus on and maintain a healthy relationship. Studies have found that technoference is associated with lower relationship satisfaction and higher levels of conflict.
If you’ve ever given into the technoference and ignored your sweetheart in favor of scrolling Twitter, there’s a term for that, too. “Phubbing” refers to the act of snubbing someone in favor of a mobile phone. Any singles in the online dating world who’ve gotten drinks with Mr. Wrong can surely relate to the urge to get back to swiping ASAP instead of sticking it out until dessert. This is one way phubbing might be creating roadblocks in your dating life.
Phubbing: the act of snubbing your partner in favor of looking at your phone
Importantly, phubbing is a problem for those in relationships too. Research shows that when a smartphone is visible in a conversation between a couple, “the more intimate the relationship, the more detrimental the phone’s effect [on communication]”. It seems as if we just can’t keep our eyes off our screens, even with those who we love most.
In an effort to find connections missing from face-to-face life, many of us turn to social media to feel less alone. “Parasocial interactions” are one-sided social interactions that take place between an individual and a mediated source, such as a television character or social media figure. While it isn’t an inherently bad or unhealthy thing to relate to characters on your favorite show, or to influencers on social media, there are risks to be aware of.
Parasocial interactions: One-sided social interactions between an individual and a public figure or fictional character
Seeing a curated version of life on social media has an effect on mental health. This can foster feelings of social isolation and jealousy, which can erode trust and intimacy. Further, research suggests that engaging in parasocial interactions may reduce the quality of one’s real-life relationships by reducing the time, energy, and attention that partners are able to devote to each other.
Our romantic wires get crossed by technology every day. Staring at our screens keeps us from looking up at one another. Our busy schedules demand that we snuggle our devices in bed instead of each other. Too much time spent on our devices can foster a lack of empathy and communication skills, which are essential for healthy relationships.
Technology itself is not inherently good or bad, it is the way we use it. With the right balance, technology can be beneficial for our relationships. However, unless we learn to put our phones away, we may forget how to connect face-to-face and lose our ability to fall in love with one another the old-fashioned way. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that a great wifi connection is a poor substitute for a genuine human connection.
Digital detox: An intentional break from using digital devices and platforms, such as social media and dating apps, to focus on real-life experiences and relationships.
A digital detox might be the key to regaining control and restoring our IRL relationships. Try to take an intentional break from using digital devices and platforms, such as social media, dating apps, and other technology for a period of time. The goal is to disconnect from the constant stimulation and distraction of technology and to focus on real-life experiences and relationships.
A digital detox might even be helpful for your dating life. It can allow you to be more present and engaged during your dates. It’s easy to miss subtle communication like body language and facial expressions when your eyes keep drifting toward your screen. When you’re not distracted by notifications or the temptation to check your phone, you can give your full attention to your date and the experience you’re having together. This can help you build a stronger connection and get to know each other better.
Taking a break from dating apps and social media can also help you avoid the negative effects of constant comparison and pressure to present a certain image online. This time offline should give you space to reflect on what you truly want in a relationship, and to approach dating with a more clear-headed and intentional mindset.