Hint: It's The "E" Word.
It's probably no surprise to most of us that the most popular form of communication amongst young people these days is (drum roll)... texting! No surprise there. But here's something that might surprise you. This is not to deny that there are many benefits of texting, including the speed through which messages can be delivered and responded to, the minimization of actual person to person or even voice to voice contact (which affords a certain safety for those of us who might be a tad averse to direct connection), and the ability to instantly access an enormous amount information much of which spans the spectrum all the way from useless to irrelevant.
There is also however, a downside to our increasing predisposition to rely on this and other electronic media as our primary forms of communication. While texting per se is not an inherently evil or dangerous medium of interaction, as a primary or in many cases, exclusive form of communication, it can have a detrimental impact on the quality of relationships and even on our ability to engage effectively in sustained and intimate engagement, which may be one of the things that many people find attractive about texting. While most of us would claim to value, at least in theory, being connected with real people rather than machines, when given the option to do otherwise, we don't always embody that philosophy in our actions.
For example, did you know that Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller, Emotional Intelligence, states in his most recent book Focus, that the average American teenager sends or receives 100 texts a day? (1) Also, in studies involving brain wave patterns of users of electronic technologies, excessive cell phone use results in a diminished empathic connection to each other because there is no access to many of the cues that reflect information about subtle aspects of others' feelings, such as body language, subtle changes in voice tone and inflection, facial expression and touch. (2) Without these cues it is very difficult to create alignment and shared understanding between people, and in the absence of this mutuality, the possibility of empathy is greatly diminished.
Empathy has to do with the capacity to put oneself in the place of another and to subjectively relate to their experience, feeling what they are feeling. Without empathy it becomes impossible to feel understood, heard, or seen. Not surprisingly, this can have profound effects on relationships, particularly those in which emotional rapport is valued.
But feeling with another is only the beginning. In order for the emotional bond to be enhanced, it is necessary to demonstrate concern in the face of another's distress and showing care by offering help. Such responses show that we value the other person. As Goleman states, empathy is the foundation of emotional intelligence and true intimate connection.
Yet empathy does more than promote loving relationships, it actually builds character. It brings out the best in us, making us more sensitive, observant, thoughtful and mature. And in the process we are perceived as being more lovable and we experience ourselves as being more worthy of love.
Those who are using their phones as their primary means of communication to communicate do not enjoy the alignment of coupling with their brain activity and the shared understanding that results from deep connection.
According to a new Harris Interactive poll, one third of those adults interviewed reported having used their phones while on dinner dates. Included in the poll, entitled: "Americans Can't Put Down Their Smart Phones Even During Sex", nearly 20 percent of smart phone owners ages 18 to 34 report having used their phone while having sex! (Exclamation point added.)
It would appear that large numbers are more concerned about relating to their cell phones, and keeping them constantly nearby, over the flesh and blood body right next to them. When even our most intimate of moments are interrupted and other behaviors become a higher priority, dissatisfaction will be felt, but it may not be voiced. Surprisingly, only 12 percent of the respondents who identified themselves as being in a relationship said they believe their smart phone gets in the way of their connection. This suggests that these young people expect to have their most intimate moments interrupted by cell phone use. Apparently, they prefer to have the cell phone continually available, rather than declare their bedroom (or any other space) a cell phone free zone.
It might be a stretch to say that if more people declared their bedroom a cell-free zone, there would be fewer divorces, less need for relationship counseling, and more intimacy and pleasure in the world. But then again, maybe it wouldn't.
Oh, excuse me, my phone is ringing. Gotta go!
1. Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: The hidden driver of excellence. (p. 10). New York, NY. Harper Publishing.
2. Przbylski, A., Weinstein, N. (2012). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Personal and Social Relationships. 30(3). 237-246.