Reality Check: Technology, For Better or Worse?

If you ever have conversations about “the way things are going,” it’s likely that the topic of technology has popped up.
Technology plays a big role in our lives. Even if you don’t use tech devices yourself, the fact that other people do can still have an impact on your life.
For the purpose of this column, I’m thinking specifically of the smartphone—that sweet little device that we can carry around in one hand, that enables us to talk, text, browse, take pictures, record conversations, and even play games. So much capability in such a small device!
My questions: “Does the smartphone help relationships or harm them? Does it bring us closer together or does it, in fact, separate us?”
Thoughtful people with whom I’ve had this conversation have answered the question for me. The consensus is clear. The answer is: “Yes and no.”
Well, there you have it. The smartphone is a tool, and like many tools, it can be helpful or unhelpful. It brings benefits, but also brings risks.
Among the benefits is how this technology enables us to develop and strengthen relationships that would otherwise be difficult to maintain. For many, recent years have brought a sharp awareness of what isolation looks like, and it’s not pretty, is it? With technology, even when we are isolated, we can still connect to some degree. I’m grateful for that, and I know I’m not alone.
However, there are also downsides, aren’t there? Who among us has not sat in a room and noticed everyone’s nose buried in their phone, scrolling away? Not a word is exchanged. No one looks up. There are no smiles or casual, “How ya doin’?” greetings.
There are some people who are happy that they’re not subjected to conversation with a stranger in a waiting room. I happen to believe that those conversations have value; however, I recognize that not everyone wants to pass the time of day with a stranger. That’s fine.
But you may have also witnessed this situation—a group of people who know each other are sitting together. Presumably, they would have things to talk about. Yet, instead of being engaged with their present company, everyone is engaged with their phone.
So, does technology make for better relationships? Or worse?
I finally found an answer from Julie Morgenstern, an organizational guru, that resonates with me. She quotes a research finding with this conclusion: “Our devices bring us closer to people who are geographically far away—but separate us from those who are geographically nearby.”
That makes the choices clearer. If I can’t sit down with you—either because you are around the world or across the street—a text or call can be a great connector.
But if I’m sitting across the table from you, that is a time to be with you in the present. To really see you—to smile, to talk, to listen, to connect. The phone, with its distractions, can wait.
Technology is just the tool. How we use it is our choice. We can gain more effective control of it when we ask, “Will this action bring me closer to or take me further from what I want?”
Does technology help relationships or harm them?

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