Our modern lives are filled with fundamental choices about how we connect. Humans have evolved into beings capable of incredibly complex bonding, social and language skills, and our use of these skills grow more complicated with every app downloaded to our devices. So do we connect with a click or by sharing a cup of coffee with a friend? There are pros and cons to both. One option allows us a magnitude of connection impossible just a few of decades ago; limitless in its reach, but limited in its depth. The other takes time and proximity but creates strong connections that are critical to emotional health.
The average American looks at their phone 80 times each day, texting, checking feeds, posting photos, and touching the home screen again and again to tally the likes they receive. You may even be reading this on your phone right now, and we hope you don’t stop. The ability to reach a broader network of people and information is arguably technology’s greatest gift to our world. But each interaction made through technology both adds and subtracts to our lives. While our handheld devices remove geographical limitations, they are not built to feed the constructive bonds for which we are genetically wired. Technology appeals to our vulnerabilities: it isn’t messy, it offers the power of choice, and it is always there, promising that you will never be alone. In short, our inherently messy human relationships are cleaned up through technology, allowing the creation of individual bubbles. This clean-up creates a whole new set of internal limitations in our lives that science is only beginning to understand.
The average American looks at their phone 80 times each day, texting, checking feeds, posting photos, and touching the home screen again and again to tally the likes they receive.
Social Psychologist Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together, has spent decades studying humans’ relationships with technology. She suggests that as we come to expect more from our technology, we expect less and less from each other. Turkle coined the term Goldilocks Effect to describe what she has studied in the subconscious curation of relationships online. In her TED Talk, she explains how technology has allowed us to keep our relationships neither too close nor too far away, giving us just the right amount of emotional distance. Consequentially, this hinders personal development by teaching relationship habits that don’t transfer into an offline atmosphere.
Turkle hasn’t given up on technology, though. She believes that generations who have grown up with a cell phone in hand are best able to create technologies that power ‘real life’ connections. Case-in-point, Max Hawkins, a millennial and former Google engineer, felt the disconnect of his tiny, self-created bubble. He did what any computer engineer would do to fix a problem: he built an app. His Third Party app, currently in beta testing, randomly selects public Facebook events for users to attend, making technology a springboard to create new and unexpected face-to-face relationships. The good news is you don’t have to be a computer engineer to build a new mindset on relationships. Hawkin’s app is just one example of the many ways a mindful approach to connectedness can yield healthy results. Here a couple time-tested and straightforward personal check-ins to help feed our need for deeper connection.
Seems a little counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But the benefits solitude has on emotional health, and thus healthier connections with others, have been widely documented. Technology offers an instantaneous hit of surface-level connection. We dare you to stand alone in a long line at the coffee shop and resist the urge to pull your phone out of your pocket to fill the lonesome moment. The desire to fill that moment with a quick Instagram check stands at odds with the concept of solitude.
The desire to fill that moment with a quick Instagram check stands at odds with the concept of solitude.
Seeking purposeful solitude, disconnected from technology and logged into your inner voice is not an experiment in loneliness. Rather, it is an essential component of emotional development. Think of it as a personal reboot; an opportunity to download the latest version of yourself. Schedule some time for quiet reflection. It will foster more meaningful connections to yourself and those around you.
Quality Over Quantity.
A recent study conducted by Leslie Seltzer at the University of Wisconsin proved the power of the human voice still rules in a world where spoken language is rapidly replaced by emojis. She put college students through stressful tests, then had half of the group text their mothers and the other half call their mothers. She found that the stress hormones of those who heard their mother’s voice dropped significantly. They also showed increased levels of oxytocin, the powerful “love hormone.” The group who were told to text their mothers saw little change to their stress hormone levels.
This study suggests that it’s not the amount of communication that matters, it’s the kind of communication. The sound of the human voice is better than any amount of texts, and in-person interaction- with the benefit of touch and non-verbal cues- beats all. It’s hard, of course, to prioritize this in our busy lives, but science continues to underline the importance of creating quality connections. So instead of looking to your phone in that long line, have a conversation with the person on either side of you. Even if they are a stranger, something as simple as the sound of your voice can have a positive impact on their lives and vice versa. Above all, aim for a balance between your online and offline relationships. You won’t be able to take every single Facebook friend to coffee, but the moments you do share with those select few will power your spirit.
Recommended Daily Ritual
Create a space to disconnect from technology daily. From here, focus your attention inward. Who in your life fills you up and makes you feel more alive? Make a plan to see that person in the near future and when you do, enjoy every moment of being in their presence.