Technology making relationships more difficult?

Do social media and cell phone technology lead to shallower, more fragile relationships or deeper, more intimate relationships?


That seems to be the answer from Professor C. J. Pascoe in her article, Romancing the Phone.

I don’t talk romantic issues or dating stuff here, but her article helps understand what is going on around us.

She offers several stories of hurt that flows from use of technology. On that general trend:

If the technology is not fraying or undermining existing relationships, stories abound of how it is creating false or destructive ones among young people who send each other sexually explicit cell-phone photos or “catfish,” luring the credulous into online relationships with fabricated personalities.

At the same time, technology is helpful and can provide a platform leading to romantic relationships:

The Internet …  is now the third most common way to find a partner, after meeting through friends or in bars, restaurants, and other public places. Twenty-two percent of heterosexual couples now meet online.

In some situations, that is a particularly helpful way to meet someone:

It has become especially important for those who have a “thin market” of potential romantic partners—middle-aged straight people, gays and lesbians of all ages, the elderly, and the geographically isolated.

Disruptive technology

The article outlines a progression of disruptive technology.

Consider automobiles,

(which gave young people a private space for sexual activity).

I suggest putting birth control pills, which dramatically changed sexual dynamics, into that pattern of disruption.

Without getting into the ethical and severe moral issues involved, also consider the change created by no-fault divorce and wide-spread availability of abortion.

My conclusion is that cell phones and social media are merely a continuation of that disruptive trend.

Texting allows far more frequent contact in a romantic relationship than phones. I’m guessing that transitioning to cell phones from land lines had a similar effect.

And without a land line, you wouldn’t have any contact with your beloved until you finished plowing the back 40 or your factory shift was over.

Tech is a tool

The professor’s conclusion:

Given the nuanced understanding people have of the role technology plays in their relationships, the idea of new media as a dehumanizing force is overblown. What research tells us is that technology can’t make relationships, nor can it ruin them. But technology has changed relationships.

There are upsides and downsides to all technology. The technical know-how to split atoms or understand radiation can be wonderfully good (cheap nuclear energy or figuring out what’s going on inside your body without your doc having to make an incision) or horribly bad (nuclear war or nuclear terrorism).  

Cell phones and social media create disruptions, but they are only tools.

(Hat tip: Dave)

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