We’ll describe some of the ways technology influences all types of relationships, including romantic, platonic, and even business relationships.
Technology is many things to many people. Everyday language confines it to physical objects, phones, laptops, mostly electronic stuff. It also is now referring to the things we do on those devices, namely, use the internet. But arguments can be advanced about the camera, or the telephone, as these are all technological too; they’re just older and more accepted as part of our world.
There are now almost infinite manifestations of technology; virtual worlds are innumerable as they can pop up and disappear in tiny pockets of time. Something can be a means of conducting online writers rating one day, and then it can be sold and transformed into an e-commerce platform the very next. As the potential number of worlds grows and the qualitative content of those worlds evolves, we are tasked with deciding how the world should be ruled and what is the correct way of behaving.
Instagram as an example
To understand this multiple-world theory better, we’ll use a concrete example, a fictional case study using Instagram.
Consider Instagram – an online diary of thoughts. As a way of communicating and gaining social capital with strangers and friends, it’s also a place where you can both spend and make money. Most importantly, when looked at through the prism of relationships, Instagram commands attention.
Of course, we’re aware of the risks of internet addiction. They follow on from all other mania-hysteria, such as too much time on the phone, too much television, too many computer games. Funnily, those actions have all been reduced down into one piece of technology – the smartphone. The idea behind these ‘hysterias’ is that too much attention is being placed on a certain entity and all its complexities.
Instagram is networked far more strongly than previous communication means. The feedback is real-time and constant, plus internet connections make the feedback faster, and making it faster makes it stronger.
Instagram uses an algorithmic method of creating feedback. You view something, and something similar will crop up. How similar it is depends on the interactions you have with this certain piece of internet ephemera.
Now, you’re in a relationship, and you’re an Instagram user. How will your relationship fair over the course of time? A study conducted in New Zealand by the University of Auckland posited that if a partner perceives their partner’s disclosures, i.e. their posting as being open to too many people, their relationship will suffer. However, this is inverse if the disclosures happen to be about the partner.
In other words, if you post anything about your partner, you make them feel better. We can’t say this is the case for everyone, as all relationships are different and some prefer to abstain from social media totally.
Yet, this case hints at something we discussed earlier. Attention is important, and in relationships, it should be directed at the partner, or if attention is diverted, it should be inclusive of the partner in its content. Long story short, share some lovely posts about your respective loved ones.
The study also demonstrated that these effects weren’t present when a friendship was the relationship in question, adding further nous to the idea that romantic relationships involve more attention than friendships.
If this inclusion/exclusion problem sounds familiar to you, then perhaps it’s a good idea to have a chat with your partner, to discuss how social media makes you feel, why you use it, and if there is anything you think that should be cleared up now in order to prevent problems later.
Don’t forget about your friends (and enemies)
It is unsurprising that Instagram will adversely influence a romantic relationship if it excludes a partner. However, just because other relationships are not affected by the inclusivity measure used in the study, doesn’t mean there’s no effect at all.
Anthropologist Daniel Miller, a Professor of Anthropology at University College London, has the following to say on the matter. “To try and generalize about a whole population and every type of family and friend-based relationship feels ludicrous”. He also asks in the context of this type of friendship the question, “is a Facebook friend a real friend?”
He goes on to say that in reality, social media has confused what is presently a messy ‘area of sociality’ anyway, so how do we know if someone is a real friend? It is likely that those who are less neurotic may see Instagram usage as harmless fun. Something that means nothing, because it is online and therefore disconnected from the initial conditions of friendship. However, what about those who have always had an online friendship as an option in the pantheon of human interaction?
Online from birth
Some people alive today have been on the internet since before they were born. For these individuals, using the internet is just the same as using a telephone or watching TV. It has no real shock factor, as they have been brought up using the devices and technologies in question.
Much was made over the pandemic on how our children were actually communicating as the rest of the world was beforehand. This deviates from the expected norm that technology use among children is insular and problematic. There is a new idea instead, the one that this is just what the kids do, and their relationships are unlikely to be exceedingly different from previous relationships, as they simply have a new space in which they can form.
Still, screen time is not something we should be giving away freely. The effects of too much time online, aka sitting down, are a health concern. Not in the immediate sense, but over the course of time too much of a sedentary lifestyle will cause problems in terms of mental and physical health, with the former being a key part of building healthy and happy relationships. Surely, this problem cannot be ignored.
Forming intimate relationships
Online dating has been a fixture of the internet for decades. As the previous section shows, people can meet and get to know one another across space and time. While online dating has had to shrug off certain negative connotations, other aspects of online dating are now wildly popular.
Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, and others all offer us a chance to connect with people we may never have ordinarily had a chance to meet. In doing so, this technology has created a seemingly never ending supply of potential partners. Does this make our relationships more disposable? No, we already knew there was a wide range of people out there. This has merely made it possible to see who they are, rather than have them exist as an abstract idea.
Apps such as these also affect our mental state: we curate our persona and pictures in order to attract. This presents an interesting intersection with the Instagram example we talked about earlier, and poses the question “isn’t Instagram a dating app too?” Viewing certain pieces of content, following, liking, reacting – all these things can be viewed as flirting too.
In essence, maybe the only way technology has affected relationships is that it’s made them more possible. More avenues are open for meeting people, while more granular types of information are perhaps leading to a form of match-making that is designed to keep us on the apps, spending our time and giving them our attention. If a human connection, or possibility of one, is the price of attention these days, then tech companies will undoubtedly continue to push in this direction.
To sum up, in this article we’ve considered several ways technology influences relationships. On one hand, technology can be harmful to relationships, especially if it is used in an exclusionary manner. However, on the other hand, technology has let us come together when a crisis took away our normality, and this factor will continue to shape how we interact from here on out.