On Technology and Relationships

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Essays

This is going to be a multiple post train of thought, I know it. But I first wanted to start with unpacking this one thought here a little bit. My friend Alex and I have spent some time pondering the notion of instant messaging, of cellphones, and of social networks, and how they leave us connected to anyone who we have ever interacted with, and make that all-too-easy proverbial “Add as a Friend” button all too close to avoid. There was a time, not so long ago, when saying goodbye to somebody meant saying goodbye to them with no opportunity for contact, or with only sporadic contact in the form of letters, and with few guarantees about when and how they would re-connect. Thanks to AOL, Motorola, Facebook, etc., those days are long past. Now, a goodbye is only a “I’ll communicate with you on some other medium, with whatever frequency I want, whenever I want.” The goodbye, as we once knew it, is effectively dead.

This has afforded us the freedom to pursue our feelings with infinitely fewer circumstantial barriers. So here’s the question: does that make us more or less prone to true feelings? Or, more simply, is this good or bad?

On the one hand, it leaves us more open – free to weigh our options at every moment, as every potential friend and shoulder to lean on, every sexual tryst, every adventure buddy, every former colleague, is just a text or a Facebook message away. It allows us to develop as part of a broader human network more quickly, and it directly threatens the age-old institutions that used to hold us in place, in a way that forces more transparency, which leads to personal integrity, which is ultimately good.

But on the other hand, it makes us lazy. When given an abundance of choice, maybe we learn to think less deeply about our choices? If you know you’ll never have to Disconnect, are you far less discerning about where, how, and with whom you connect? Maybe our instinct to maximize advantage then results in our spreading ourselves thin, lacking an ability to commit, in effect weakening our ties, rather than strengthening them.

I wonder. David Brooks from NYT had a satisfyingly strong opinion about this a while ago. Check it out here. More to come, of course.

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