Digital Intimacy: What Are We Reaching For?

With the rapid development of new social media sites, smartphone apps and other technological gadgets, we are hearing a lot about how today’s generation is addicted to technology. While many are panicked and outraged over this new obsession, I would argue that we are not addicted to technology, but rather our fixation with Facebook, Twitter, apps, and texting is a reflection of our innate desire to be connected with others.

While this desire for connection is a universal human trait, the nature of this connection is changing in today’s digital world.

The biggest change in this type of connection is control. Digital communication allows us to control two major aspects of our relationships:

Persona– the way we present ourselves

Distance– frequency and nature of contact

Four Ways We Control Persona & Distance

  • Editing: decreasing moments of “why did I say that” or “I wish I would have said that in the moment,” and oftentimes we aren’t editing alone…
  • Selective Presentation: We can choose what parts of our lives to share and broadcast and which to keep private; we can trim away things that are less desirable and magnify those that are more desired.
  • Controlling how we respond: Unlike face-to-face communication, we can gather the courage to say that thing we can’t say in person or use emoticons instead of our own expressions
  • Controlling when we respond/who we respond to: We can choose to respond immediately, in a few hours, a few days or not at all. If we are feeling disconnected or lonely we have the ability to immediately reconnect by firing off messages, posts and texts, etc; we create the space we want and when we want it.

While the ability to control our persona and distance sounds ideal, how can we learn to be intimate in relationships when we are constantly editing and controlling our communication? We may be getting our connection fix digitally, but are we cheating ourselves when it comes to investment in long-term relationships that require face-to-face interactions, responsiveness, attunement and acceptance?

Sherry Turkle, a cultural analyst and psychologist, and author of Alone TogetherWhy We Expect More From Technology andLess From Each Other says yes.  She says we are sacrificing conversation for mere connection. The cost of this sacrifice? The ability to self-reflect and listen. You can imagine the implications for developing teens and future relationships.

Turkle highlights 3 false fantasies related to digital communication:

  1. I can put my attention where I want

  2. I can always be heard

  3. I never have to be alone

The misconception is that we are connected, when really we are isolating ourselves. This isolation develops without cultivating the ability to tolerate solitude. When we find ourselves alone, it feels like a problem and we can become anxious and reach for our devices. As Turkle puts it, “we are lonely but afraid of intimacy.”

We are coming to expect more from technology and less from each other. Yes, technology is amazing. We can sustain connections with those far from us, and share pictures and news and access each other’s worlds with the touch of a button. But I ask of you, the next time you reach for your device to consider what it is you are really reaching for.

3 Comments on “Digital Intimacy: What Are We Reaching For?

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