By Sue Saker, Apr 16 2015 11:46AM
Technology appears to be hear to stay whether we like it or not but what exactly is the impact of all this technology on our families and our relationships? I’ve been pondering this lately and thought I’d share my ponders in case it’s useful for anyone.
When couples come for coaching there are several wishes that often get voiced by one or both of them:
To have greater connection with one another.
To really feel listened to and heard.
To understand one another better.
To feel more supported.
Now the common thing between all of these very understandable desires is that they first involve communication. The simple fact is that you can’t connect, listen, understand or support without first communicating with one another. And I mean real communication, not just to check who is picking up little Jonny from football training or ‘You have a bogey hanging out of your nose’. I mean the stuff that involves really giving your attention, your ears, your curiosity to hear what’s going on for your partner and what they are experiencing in life right now.
And what are some of the biggest blocks to all that lovely meaningful communication? Well a big one is time naturally which is often a big issue in our busy lives. Also tiredness comes up a lot as couples explore this topic - when we’re tired it can feel hard to have a conversation sometimes. Unsolicited advice can literally halt an attempt at connection in its tracks. There are many others and, as you may have guessed, a growing issue that couples frequently mention is the use of technology. (Which incidentally can also lead to the issues with ‘time’ and ‘tiredness’ too!).
Now there are many ways in which technology enhances our lives such as Skyping to far away grandparents, knowing when the next bus is coming before leaving the house, a loving text message during the day, and the fact that I now never have to eat an over-boiled egg (check out the Egg Timer app - it’s amazing). We all know there are plenty of great things about technology, otherwise we wouldn’t use it so I’m not anti-technology, not least because you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise! But what might be the downsides for our relationships & families?
Firstly there’s a big difference between watching a TV program with your partner where you are having a shared experience and one of you also being on an Ipad or smartphone doing Candy Crush or reading emails. The gadget user is no longer fully present, enjoying the shared experience. Instead they are having a separate one of their own and it rules out the little comments that it’s natural to make to one another about what’s on the TV. These comments allow us to connect more, to hear our partner’s views on a subject, to share laughter etc. Hence why ‘Gogglebox’ such an entertaining program.
But what if we go even further and imagine if the TV (technology in itself) isn’t on? It’s so easy to feel tired after a busy day and slump in front of the TV but what could you both be doing instead? Listening to music together while chatting, eating dinner together while focused on one another, playing a board game, massaging one another, doing a crossword, having sex (I know it’s just getting ridiculous now!), out for a walk, going to bed early etc. The list goes on but note how all of the activities involve a lot more communication with one another than watching TV. ‘Date night’ doesn’t have to involve an expensive babysitter or a pricey meal out, it could be as simple as switching off the TV and other gadgets and spending time together in a shared activity or chatting. When couples commit to doing this, on a regular basis, they generally both report greater satisfaction in the relationship.
Similarly some couples decide together that there will be no gadgets in the bedroom, or no gadgets after a certain time. It’s easy for our gadget use to get out of hand, to interrupt bedtimes, social occasions, mealtimes without us really noticing. When couples come for coaching, and they are paying attention to what their relationship needs, it’s a common subject that gets raised. But you don’t need coaching to do that - sometimes we need to just pause and notice what’s actually going on in our household and check if that’s how we want to live and what are the impacts of it. Some will be good - like my delicious runny boiled eggs - but are you happy with the overall impact?
In addition, there is of course the never ending temptation to check (and reply) to work emails. You may well be clearing the backlog before the next day but you are also not giving your brain a break from work, not being present in your personal life and cutting down on time available to be doing what you may love more. I won’t nag as I’m sure you’d rather not be dealing with work in the evenings but maybe work has become increasingly intrusive without you realising it? If that’s the case how can you scale it back? Eg If you can’t give it up altogether perhaps try and limit it to certain times or only on certain days. Your partner, and relationship, will probably thank you for it.
And what is the effect of gadgets on our brains? I carried out a, very non-scientific, experiment in the Easter holidays with my two kids (ages 7 and 8) where I banned all gadgets & most days no TV either. Now they don’t actually have that much gadget time anyway - the odd half an hour session on Minecraft a few times a week - so it wasn’t so much that it freed up loads more time but I was curious to see what would happen. Naturally they whinged a lot. And called me mean. Asked many times a day to have gadgets etc. But what I noticed happening as the days went past is that the way they played changed. They were doing different things and using their creativity and imagination more. This didn’t happen immediately and increased as the days went on. Now I don’t know for sure why this happened. Maybe it was because they were more bored? Maybe they would have done that anyway as they relaxed into the holidays? I have no way of knowing for sure. But I do have a theory. When they play on a gadget, say Minecraft, it is totally engrossing, utterly stimulating and they can make wonderful things happen instantly. In comparison, back in the real World, other toys or games can perhaps feel a bit bland, boring, not that interesting in comparison. But it felt that, by the end of the two weeks, they had rediscovered the fun & interest in making things, reading and using their imagination. This culminated in them making cardboard versions of gadgets (of course) - a lap top and a smart phone with huge amounts of laughter as they plugged in different ‘apps’, pretended to look up the weather, took photos and asked Siri questions. (Incase you’re wondering Siri answered that Mummy smells of poo!).
Similarly I feel that it’s good for our brains to be bored sometimes, for our minds to be able to daydream and wander and I worry that gadgets are preventing much of that. For instance, I notice that when I go for a run that there is a big difference in whether I play music or not. On music days I may run faster or further and it feels easier. But on non-music days I notice more mini brainwaves, ideas or solutions to problems emerge as I plod along and my mind drifts. I worry that our brains are not getting enough opportunity to be bored and just drift in order to figure stuff out.
So there you have it. In summary if we switch off our gadgets more I believe it will enhance our relationships, encourage communication and connection, help our brains relax, increase our creativity and problem solving. On the downside it may mean you miss the bus and get an overcooked egg. Of course this is just my ponders and I don’t have ‘the truth’ or scientific evidence, it’s just what I’ve noticed and what I’ve heard from my couples clients. And we haven’t got it right in our house either (remember coaches are Human too). I have a Facebook addiction, partly due to being a true extrovert but working alone, and the Husband is physically attached to his Ipad. In fact I might just send him this blog ...
Until next time, be nice to one another,