In one of my earlier blog posts entitled “Blame it on the Facebook,” I talked about how technology or social media more specifically, is damaging intimate relationships. The behaviors we witness everyday seem to support this theory as well. How many times have you seen two people sitting at a dinner table and both totally glued to their cell phones instead of having an actual conversation with each other? What about the relationships that have ended because one of the partners couldn’t break away from playing “War of the Worlds” for the 13th straight hour?
Tech anthropologist, Stefana Broadbent, disagrees. She states that through her studies, she has found that technology actually increases intimacy. Broadbent states that every person has an intimate sphere that consists of about 5 to 7 people. She goes on to say that regardless of how many friends you have on Facebook, studies have shown that you only communicate with 2 to 6 of them. Same thing for instant messaging buddy lists, Skype and cell phones, which indicate that 80 percent of all phone calls are only made to 4 people in your contact list.
For me, I can say that all sounds about right. As I try to strengthen my presence on social media networking sites like Twitter, perhaps this pattern won’t hold true, but for now, it’s pretty darn accurate.
Broadbent strengthens her point, by bringing us back 15 years and into the life of factory workers, school children, and migrant parents. She reminds us of this time when you clocked into your job and there was absolutely no contact with the outside world, no contact with your private sphere, until you clocked out to go home. If you were lucky, “there was a public phone hanging in the corridor somewhere,” she says. The lower the job classification of the person, the more removed he or she would be from their personal sphere. She also reminds us of situations where children, whose parents moved away to work toward a better life, only knew of their parents as the people who sent money.
But thanks to the bustling technologies of today, she says people are fervently staying in touch with their most intimate sphere now more than ever. Thanks to technology, we are taking advantage of being in contact all throughout the day. According to Broadbent’s study, fifty percent of people with email access at work are actually checking their private email. The study probably does not account for people checking their email through mobile devices. If mobile devices were included, I’m sure the percentage would increase by at least thirty percent. Additionally, seventy-five percent of people admit to having private conversations at work, and one hundred percent of the population admits to texting at work.
Furthermore, family members around the world can now take advantage of Skype and services alike to keep in touch with each other in real time.
So perhaps, technology is strengthening our most intimate relationships as far as increasing accessibility. But could it also be damaging them as well? My thoughts continue to go back to the couple at the dinner table, conversation-less and texting. Is the use of technology a double edged sword?