It’s no surprise that the Internet has led the way in digital communications. It created a way for people to communicate faster, in more ways than ever before, and with more individuals. This should be great when it comes to relationships. Right?
Although digital communication has the ability to encourage offline interactions, help strengthen long-distance relationships, and potentially bring people closer over their shared interests, currently there is a growing concern that we are becoming a generation more attached to our devices than to our significant others. It appears, it’s only going to get worse. Given how much successful communication is dependent on body language and nonverbal cues, technology can also be deemed as the death of meaningful and intimate relationships.
Smartphones: Front & Center
We’ve all seen that couple or family at a table, in a restaurant, sitting in complete silence, allowing their smartphones and gadgets to syphon all their attention. They seem to be communicating and engaging with the outside world, just not with each other.
A recent Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers' annual Internet Trends report estimated that we pick up our smartphones approximately 150 times a day and devote almost 11 hours a day to screen time. What’s even more shocking, a study by dscout revealed that we swipe, tap, click, and scroll on our phones up to 2,617 times per day. For the top 10 percent of users, this number doubled to a whopping 5,427 touches per day. 1 in 4 adults even wake up during the night and use their phone.
These staggering statistics include all types of interactions with our smartphones, from checking current events on news sites, sending and receiving texts/emails to scrolling on social media.
The amount of time we spend staring at our phones each day is very indicative of the significant role these devices have in our lives. Between 2018-2019, 85% of smartphone users reported checking their phones while having conversations with family and friends. It appears, we have allowed smartphones to take over our lives and take priority over our loved ones, most importantly our significant others. It is quite evident phones are proving to be distracting during quality time.
Healthy, lasting relationships are built on several essential principles. Among these are honesty, trust, mutual admiration, respect and most importantly, communication. By some standards, regular, open communication with your partner is one of the most essential characteristics of a healthy relationship, more important even than physical intimacy and the ability to make each other laugh.
It’s been established that clearly, our smartphones are a distraction. The trend of ignoring individuals in our presence, in favor of a phone, has even led to the coining of a new term: PHUBBING. It literally means the habit of snubbing individuals in our presence in favor of our phones (Phone snubbing) and can severely disrupt our genuine, present-moment, in-person relationships. The word may sound funny; however, its consequences are quite serious. In a 2016 study, appropriately titled, “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone,” researchers have found that phubbing, not only decreases relationship satisfaction, but by lowering relationship satisfaction, it also contributed to greater feelings of depression and satisfaction with life.
Finding a Healthy a Balance
Although originally designed as a tool for improved communication, smartphones may actually hinder, rather than nurture interpersonal connectedness. Since feeling connected to each other is a basic human need, true connection thrives when we’re fully present. It's no wonder many relationships suffer because one, or perhaps often both, partners are slaves to the screen.
The key preventing phubbing and averting relationship damage is simply awareness. We must remember to be fully present and mindful of the people in our company and give the full attention they deserve.
Although smartphones do have their benefits, such as helping us to stay in almost instant contact when we are physically apart from one another, it’s important to be aware that digital communication is not a replacement for one-on-one, physical time with our loved ones, which is needed for a meaningful, healthy relationship.
Like anything in life, when we choose to do what we do, be it consciously or subconsciously, perhaps it might be wise to put down the phone, look up and interact without the distraction of your mobile technology.
In a world full of algorithms, hashtags and followers, it’s important to never underestimate the impact authentic, in-person communication has on human connection.
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