The advances in technology, particularly communications technology, have certainly been a blessing and oh how our lives have changed!
I remember as a child in primary school, the distinctive smell of carbon paper from the freshly copied notes – those days disappeared quickly with the invention of the photocopier and nowadays we just get emails or pdf attachments.
I remember the days when the telephone was attached to the telephone base with a curly cord; where your finger had to use the round dial to ring each number. Being more mobile meant adding on a huge phone extension cord so you could move the phone to your bedroom for privacy. And now, here we are, all cordless and even hands free.
I remember as a receptionist in a law firm opening up letter after letter, and at a shipping company that used a Telex machine to send messages overseas. I also remember moving from my mum’s old typewriter to an electric typewriter with the wonders of being able to delete misspelt words with special tape – to now computers that do all sorts of amazing and complicated functions with absolute ease.
We now have social media, email, the World Wide Web as well as Internet dating sites where we can meet potential partners – so many ways of communicating with each other – with people nearby and those overseas.
I do appreciate the support of these advances in technology, but today I felt to pause to consider more deeply how we are behaving with it.
Communications technology in today’s modern life has a purpose of bringing us together and it would be easy to assume that as a society we would be more connected; where our relationships could be much more harmonious and without strain, as our access to each other is so much easier.
This isn’t the case though, is it? People are not more connected with each other than before, in the sense of our relationships being more loving and understanding. There might be more noise, or more chatter, but what is the true quality of our relationships?
In many ways we still lack a true and deep connection with each other. We use these technologies to ‘appear’ that we are connected and having amazing relationships, but often there is a superficiality to them, a lack of true intimacy. We could say that our relationship with others is just an extension of our relationship with ourselves, and perhaps here we move closer to the real question or issue at hand – what is the quality of our relationship with ourselves? Do we love and care for ourselves deeply?
When I am out and about or just sitting in a café I see people alone, focused intently on their phones. It’s like we can no longer be seen just sitting alone, we have to be busy connecting. We just have to be busy! I have found myself feeling uncomfortable being on my own, or looking for stimulation, and will check my phone, more out of habit than need. Why can’t I just sit and enjoy my surrounds, connected with myself and enjoying that time?
On social media, email and Internet dating sites you can, and many do, create a persona: you can be whoever you want to be, whatever image you wish to portray. With just the touch of the backspace or delete button you can control all that you say in written form… far less risky than verbal communication where there is no going back once the words are spoken. You can touch up your photos, fix perceived imperfections, and ‘manage’ your public image, for each photograph must be in line with the image you communicate and portray to the world.
Our technological devices, including computer games, can give the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. The computer game doesn’t reject us or judge us. It is always there when we need it. It doesn’t ask us to be more, and it doesn’t put us down either. We don’t have to ‘work through’ any issues, except for maybe getting to the next gaming level and if the peer group is all doing it, then there is something in common to talk to each other about – but is this true connection?
I have noticed how children can sit on computer games and be together without really being connected. Some mums have commented to me that their kids are obsessed with computer games and that gaming can change the demeanour of the children where they are more checked-out, lacking in expression, racy, intense and much more emotional (including an increase in anger). There is no real communication, not with any depth anyhow. In fact, there is a distance between the children, and in this distance they can avoid having to face what is there that they don’t want to feel.
I have heard gamers talk about the many days that pass as they obsessively play their games, controller in hand, hiding out from the world. Gaming was a particular technology developed for our entertainment, to play with each other and to have fun, however the players’ behaviour can change after gaming. Not only can this technology make us less connected, it can make us more competitive and with a drive to win – putting the victory above our relationships.
In a recent conversation, a young boy shared with me that he spends time on the computer because no-one listens to him and his parents are not keen to hang out with him. When he is alone or lonely, when his parents are absent or distracted, the computer is there for him. It fills in time and it becomes his companion. What is life really about when we are turning objects, our computers, into friends?
It is strange to realise that we are hiding from each other even when utilising technology and connecting via our devices. Is technology actually making it more difficult for us to relate to others and with ourselves, or could it be how we are using the technology is the real problem?
We expect technology to continue to advance and bring us closer together, but this doesn’t seem to be what is happening.
Do we just move on and reach for a device when people get too hard to deal with, or too hurtful? We may have hundreds of friends on our social media site, but how many of those people know who we really are, and how many love us so much that they are willing and committed to work through any tension that may come up in our relationship. Is it easier to just ‘unfriend’ that person and move on to the next friend, keeping it all superficial?
Technology is here to make our lives richer, but from what I have been observing and feeling for myself, it appears to be making our connection with ourselves and others, with one distraction after another, weaker and more mediocre. Perhaps it is not the technology itself, but our lack of willingness to pull down our walls of protection, to be vulnerable and honest with ourselves and others. Living in this way, where we guard ourselves from any potential risk of being hurt and rejected, does not allow the intimacy and harmony in relationships that we so desire.
Technology is here as a real gift to humanity because it offers the opportunity to enhance our connection with each other and support our relationships to be intimate, to be real, and to deepen. Technology can only support this though, if we are willing to let go of ‘image control’ and be honest and open with our communication, where we are willing to evolve and face our true feelings.
The longing to connect more deeply with another will come from connecting more deeply with ourselves; from offering ourselves the love and tenderness we so often seek from those around us. We can use technology as a distraction to escape from our feelings or to hide our true selves, but perhaps its true purpose is to support our relationships to be what we know deep inside they can be.
By Maree Savins, Engineering Project Officer, Tertiary Education, Australia