The Digital Realm: An Elixir or a Slow-working Poison?
Our ongoing and fairly constant use of digital devices, particularly smartphones, tablets, lap and desktop computers and socially-enables gaming devices is degrading our relationships, in family, friend and work-based living.
Much of this degradation is incremental and below the radar of our daily awareness. Even as the technology of the digital age is inventive, thrilling, engaging and enabling, it is giving birth to raised levels of intolerance, irritation, aggression and even cruelty and abuse.
The irony of writing and presenting this article using the very platforms and technology it seeks to warn against is not lost on the author. Indeed, he has hesitated to publish it at all but decided that the warning is necessary and the place for sharing it – the digital realm – is the only viable place where it might be read, reflected on, and reacted to.
The digital goodnight
Families, even as they become more instantly connected, and prioritising their IPads and Facebook timelines over even a single goodnight to their partners. Partners drift off to sleep as the other partner remains awake, locked into sharing, liking, maybe-ing, arguing, half-reading, blinking into bright light, never designed to assist gentle and restful sleep.
Even those who claim to have it all under control or be its avid critics, are tied into pre-sleep digital entrapment. Yes, entrapment, because we can’t turn off, even if we believe we can. We create self-narrative that idealise our self-control and strength of will, when the reality is something far darker, a weaker-willed self that delays switch off, that brings the gadgets to bed, and they become the last thing we bid goodnight too.
Narratives of Defence
To justify this behaviour we create narratives about our partner and other family members designed to keep them at bay – “you don’t understand me”, “I need space”, “you are always nagging me”, “and what about YOU, you are just as bad!”.
Even when these things have some truth to them, the motive is largely to turn off the challenge from others to our own addictive behaviour, even when that challenge is rooted in love, concern and kindness. I believe many a marriage, many a relationship will break apart because of the coldness and lack of care at the root of digital distraction, degradation and addiction. Partners will point to issues as causes that are actually largely fake, decoys to allow the digital addiction to continue until the last possible moment, even to the end of life.
The “last possible moment”. This is another sign of digital degradation. We become reluctant to switch off, we delay it. And we keep switching back on. The phone is turned to standby (rarely silent) and is put into the pocket. Within minutes, even seconds, it is back out again and fingertip taps glass, and the owner hasn’t even noticed she has done it over thirty times in an hour train journey.
Friends are neglected, conversations are half listened too, messages, emails and articles are skim read. We “like” having only read a title, snap-viewed a photograph. Sometimes we like without reading a single word. We cover a lot of ground, tick a lot of tasks lists, yet we hardly taste any of it.
Hyperlinks hurled at our loved ones
In our closer relationships we hurl hyperlinks at our loved ones: “You might like this… or this” but our genuine depth of interest and concern rarely reaches the heart or the will, remaining in the fast moving head. We become drawn to that apparent ability to connect with so many people, so quickly – that is the gift of the digital realm, and get, underneath, the tender, deeper, softer elements of what connects us, becomes eroded away, scratched off, even ultimately killed.
Whenever someone suggests our behaviour is cheapening the quality of our connection, we react in anger, push away, and seek decoys to help us hold onto the idealised version of ourselves, that like a drug or alcohol addict – we can handle it. We attack the challenger because we know deep down we are a shadow of that better self. What is a pity (and we know it) is we haven’t really learned how to handle or be skilled with digital technology.
Cheapening our Relationships
It incites us to be cheaper in our approach, lazier and diluted in our attitude, trading the superficial for the harder, deeper and then renaming the diluted as lush and rich. We collectively lower our standards and something better becomes named as something out of date, unnecessary and simply too much bother.
Hearing the bad news
There are two ways we can find out about this degradation of our relationships. One way is from non- or less-addicted partners, family members, friends and colleagues They notice the change. They mention it. They share their concern. They describe the impact. Because they aren’t as addicted as we are we swat then away as ignorant, over-worrying, as uncool or naive. A second way involves fellow addicts. Here we use a well known fallacy of thinking called “poisoning the well” where we accuse the other of being a hypocrite or “just as bad or even worse” so we deny the validity of their views.
In both cases we defend and slam shut the door of feedback and the degradation worsens.
Yet in both cases the concerns being offered to us are vital to our health and wellbeing and the quality of our relationships. It is often a partner, family member, friend or colleague who isn’t digitally addicted, who has cut down on digital activity, or who avoids the digital realm who can most notice the negative changes taking place in us over time. They see the degradation. They name it.
And a fellow addict can name it because they notice it as an experienced addict. They may not see it as clearly in themselves (or they made see just that!). They know you are drowning in a whirlpool because they are in that water too!
Over time we lose touch; literally we can lose physical touch as the smile becomes the smiley, the kiss the x, the caress becomes the “luv u” (without even an I. Even the most authentically loving of us start to lose that heartfulness and distance grows between us.
The Digital Goes Physical
And then the digital externalises. We fail to read our partners, friends, family members and colleagues accurately. We impose simplicity on them, judge them harshly and falsely big them up. Intolerance grows especially if they ask for more time or energy or attention from us in the physical world. They express intolerance, disapproval, they withdraw from us as they seek to call us away from digital immersion. We say “But I don’t feel like that”, when what we need is we feel uncontrollable more like this – where this is the constant high of digital addiction and distraction. Inwardly we may not feel any different; we may even feel enriched and enhanced by constant digital time, even enriched by it. And yet the degradation can be gradual, like erosion, like rust, like decay. We may compensate by being “fake nice” back here in the physical realm. Only those who love and know us begin to tell the difference.
Bit by bit, moment by moment
The little bits of degradation occur in parallel – the parallel is between physical and digital life, partly because, in the current state of technological development, digital life is still physical, with real fingertips on glass, eyes staring at bright screens, tablets leaning on laps and necks craning over smartphones.
Every call to move towards another person is a reminder that our physicality is stilled, in trance and trap to digital content. A call from others to move, is a call to wake up and step away and that is the same as a call to stop drinking the booze. It is a call for attention. And we feel the other person is demanding us, ordering us, claiming us. We get irritated. We resist. We can even ignore. Often we lie, pretending to listen, pretending to like or agree. We practice many little acts of fakery.
The tiredness creeps in
Finally when we are back in the physical world, we are soul-tired, brain exhausted and the physical realm of words, movement and touch feels to raw, too loud, too demanding os us. So we need to “rest”, to have more “Me time” away from others. We head into the garden … with the smartphone handily still in our pocket, or even our hand…
When one partner is doing this, the relationship lists to one side and eventually falls off the cliff.
When both partners are doing this, the relationship changes, may survive but the degradation often claims both in the end.
When friends, families and colleagues are doing this, we end up feeling that our social realm is weak, unsatisfying, and, even in the crowd, we begin to feel the ache of loneliness.
This technology is a miracle and can be an elixir of healthy connection and reconnection. Currently it is a slow-working poison.