It was 10 years ago in Italy when I first noticed the phenomenon. I was on vacation with my family, seated at one of the most charming restaurants in the romantic seaside town of Portofino. My table happened to be next to a young Italian couple. Silhouetted against a gorgeous sunset, sipping wine, and sharing a candlelit table for two, the pair should have been filmed for an ad released by the Italian Tourism Board. That is until the young woman picked up her cell phone and proceeded to spend the entire two-hour dinner shouting into the device, while her bored companion meekly ate his dinner. Never once did the couple speak to each other, much less meet eyes. We enchanted and phoneless Americans were, needless to say, shocked by the scene.
Flash forward 10 years, and the same scene can be witnessed almost daily in any restaurant we enter in the United States. What’s worse, I am, on occasion, that woman. Aren’t you? Cell phones are not just phones anymore. They’re devices fueled by the forces of modern technology to keep us “connected” in every way possible. Yet, how much does technology that, in seconds, allows us to share “FaceTime” with a friend in India create distance between a loved one across the table?
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It’s no small statement to say that too often logging in means tuning out. Technology is coming between us and our closest relationships. But before we blame the laptop or sell the TV, it’s important to consider our own relationship to technology. How do we use it? Why? And when? Is it to relieve stress? Unwind after a long day? Stay on top of work? Keep in touch with friends? Play board games? Flirt? Argue? Sext? Upon closer look, most of us would agree that it isn’t technology that is to blame, but how we use technology that really hurts our closest relationships.
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In an interview with Dr. Pat Love, the acclaimed author of The Truth About Love and Hot Monogamy, that I did for PsychAlive.org, she explained that there are four basic keys to loving. Each of these factors is compromised when our attentions are taken up by “likes,” tweets, smart phones and “Angry Birds.”
The first key to being loving, according to Love, is that we have to “show up.” It may sound simple, but as she explains, “You’ve got to be present; you have to be under the same roof. You’ve got to log some hours with each other. And you don’t just show up for what’s fun for me. If it’s important to you, it becomes important to me.”