ACA Blog

Michelle Wade
May 02, 2011

Having a Relationship in the Digital Age

Before I begin this blog, let me start by saying this is not just about dating. Rather it is about interpersonal relationships in general in today’s tech oriented world. Let’s take a moment and think about all the different ways someone can get in touch with another person these days: phone call, email, text, facebook, instant message, twitter, blog comments, Skype…and the list of social networking sites can go on and on…but you get the gist.

Notice I did not say meet for lunch, run into at the grocery store, write a letter…While those options still exist, it seems those are fewer and far between. Just this week I have 3 friends with birthdays and I hate that I am saying this, but they didn’t get birthday cards, they got a wall post on facebook. My best friend and I haven’t exchanged actual verbal communication for a month, yet we text at least weekly. As for dating, let me just say this and therefore avoid a single woman’s tirade, no longer is it enough to wonder if the person you are interested is going to call, but now we have to try and figure out the nuances of each text communication?

Why am I bringing this topic up on a counseling web blog? Because, these are the types of communications and relationship issues we as counselors are going to be facing. I would venture to say that a majority of us deal with some type of relationship problem with a majority of our clients. I know for me, the problems that my clients have show their manifestations first and foremost in interpersonal relationships. And because of technology, it is my belief that the way we define interpersonal connection has vastly changed over the years. It is much more common for a text conversation to happen between two mid-twenties individuals than a phone call.

Sadly, just this week, I was having coffee with a friend of mine, who is a late baby-boomer generation and I was also having two text conversations with friends in other states. What message is this sending to my friend across the table from me? Why do I feel compelled to throw out all of those good manners my mother raised me with? I used to be polite and thoughtful and I find myself these days rather perturbed of my lack of politeness. I used to be punctual until I found myself overwhelmed with too many tech things to check in the mornings that I never seem to start off on time. In simpler times, I don’t think I stressed so much about who I was NOT communicating with, rather I focused on who I WAS communicating with. So this morning, I asked myself where did it all start going wrong for me in the manners department. And I came to conclusion it started when I was given 24/7 accessibility through technology.

I use myself as the example, because well I’m an easy target for myself. But the truth is the majority of my generation and definitely the ones younger than me have been given this opportunity to form relationships that otherwise would have never formed and/or not remained in contact and for that I think the definition of interpersonal connection inevitably had to change for us and them. Maybe I am just biased and I am nostalgic for the days when all I had to worry about was would I get a birthday card in the mail or a phone call from a certain boy rather than will people comment on my wall. It is my theory that by being continually plugged in, we are actually becoming a nation of detached people. Humans need connection. A sense of community and connection are what feeds our souls and with the ability of technology came the ability to disconnect from real time human interaction.

We say it is because we are so busy or that it helps us get jobs done faster or keeps us more on task, but at what cost? Are we forgetting how to connect simply because we can “connect” in so many other ways at all times of the day? Are we losing sight of what it means to be human? If I am struggling with it, I can bet that my clients are as well. And if I’m supposed to be the person who helps them better their communication style and their interpersonal relationships, doesn’t that mean that I should have a clear understanding of my own? So, my challenge to myself this week is simply this….meet that same friend for coffee and have a conversation with him and only him and stop looking at my phone, meet a friend for lunch and celebrate her birthday, and maybe even call my best friend and check up on her. Oh and write a thank you note to someone, not a thank you email.

Michelle E. Wade is a counselor and doctoral student focusing on in-home therapy and technology in counseling.

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