It is not unusual to see articles about how technology has changed our lives. Many of them involve complaints about the problems it creates. Stories bemoan the negative effects of driving while on a cell phone, teenagers spending hours texting or face-timing with friends or groups of people in a room, supposedly to visit with each other, but every person is giving attention to their phone or tablet. There are some real problems with technology, but are there also some good things that it does for us? We recently decided to take some time to examine the ways that the digital age has affected our couple relationship and other relationships in our lives, noting both benefits and problems. I will note up front that I was a geek before the word was invented, so we use technology in more ways than most people. That’s OK, we just hope that the following will help you to have a discussion about how technology affects your lives in both positive and negative ways.
Cell phones and computers have made it possible to stay in contact with each other as well as with family and friends in ways that are often almost effortless and in situations that were once very difficult. We use voice, text, email and even video (Facetime).
Rita was the first in our family to have a cell phone. She had a long commute and often had to stay at work late. The phone allowed her to stay in touch with me and gave me peace of mind that she could call for help, if needed, on her commute. Now we call from the grocery store to make sure we are getting the right item, or learn where the other is in a store.
When we travel we seldom leave a detailed itinerary for the kids. Even outside the U.S. we have phones that can be reached by dialing our normal numbers. It is freeing for us and is comforting for them to know they can reach us in an emergency. The same is true for us with them and our extended families. Having access to things makes it less worrisome and freeing when we travel. While it may seem like an extreme, we have switched our home number to a box that allows us to use our phones as usual, but also take it with us at times when we will be gone for several weeks. We get our home calls and messages anywhere cell service is available. There is some comfort in knowing we have contact available and can be notified by family, friends and even businesses, like credit card companies, that need to get in touch with us.
We like the ability to make calls from a car. On long drives we often break the monotony by calling our children and grandchildren. We recently had a great conversation with two granddaughters in CT while we were traveling through the Texas panhandle. They were also in a car. With Bluetooth connections we can both be part of the conversation without having to hold a phone.
We have discovered that texting (SMS messaging) can be useful when we want to send a short informational message. That is especially helpful when the recipient is at work and isn’t interrupted by a call, but can respond when they have a break. Rita has found it a good way to keep in touch with the older grandchildren who are adept at texting. They also like to use Facetime so that they can see us while we talk. It is a great way to have conversations with our children who live out of state or when we are out of state. It is great to see the smiles and give air kisses to our grandchildren when we can’t spend time with them.
We use email less than we once did, but still find it useful to send longer messages to multiple people. My family largely uses emails as a way of communicating, often with a common message to siblings/and/or their families when we haven’t been in contact for a while. It is also useful for receiving promotional information from vendors. I have figured out how to bring together messages from several email accounts in one place, making maintenance easier. We have fun finding hotel and restaurant coupons when we travel.
The internet has had a growing influence on our lives, especially mine, since the late ‘70s. Today we use it for many things. One of most important things we get from it is vastly increased amounts of information. We look at news outlets online, I read the daily newspaper on my tablet and have web subscriptions to several magazines. I also use a tablet for reading books. It is convenient to carry, especially when I have multiple books going at the same time. It has made easily available large numbers of classic works, often for little or no cost. We like to read some of the same authors and just as we share books we share downloaded books as well. It gives us much to talk about.
One of the best things we have gotten from the web is access to trivia. We like trivia games as well. Italso affects our social situations. In our conversations with friends and family somebody asks a question to which no one is certain of the answer or there is disagreement about the answer and at least one person picks up a phone or iPad and looks it up. This often gets questions answered quickly and amicably. It can be done in couple relationships as well. Sometimes arguments result over trivial differences of opinions but perhaps the use of surfing might prevent that. It is helpful at times when we don’t know what to do. Last week we found ourselves sitting in a cab at LaGuardia, looking for information about tipping cabbies in NY.
When we need a break from other things, there are always games available. Rita likes solitaire and I play Words with Friends. It is fun to send each other messages when we are out. Maria and Mike often IM each other during the day. They can have a conversation with each other and when one of them is busy they can ignore it for a while. They find it a great way to stay in touch. Matthew and Andrea text each other during the day. (Hopefully none of their employers will read this.) We often use it when we are out for the day whether together or alone. We can call or text to stay in touch or to find each other. We even use it to shop together for the best price on something. Rita is very good at taking pictures of things we might want to purchase along with the price tag. We find it fun to comparison shop.
The web affects our lives in many other ways. We pay as many monthly bills as we can and automate payments, when possible. I get notifications of payments due via email. This is a great help in getting bills paid on time and makes it easier to travel for extended periods. The bills get paid and I can watch the bank and credit card accounts from wherever we are. I have also installed security and lighting systems that I can monitor and control wherever we are. While I do the work all of this it is available to Rita.
For a couple of years we have been trying to eliminate paper from our financial and personal lives. We have stopped paper bills and notices and now download digital copies. We have a calendar which is online and available on multiple devices. This makes information available for both of us and has prevented some of the “you didn’t tell me about that.” It is available on all of our devices (we each have a computer, a tablet and a smartphone). We know what each other has on his/her schedule for the week.
Electronics allow us to play internet content, movies, youtube, sports on our TV sets. We have never been great movie or TV fans, but Netflix and other services make it possible to watch a large selection of entertainment products cheaply and at home. We now enjoy a movie evening together occasionally.
I have described the positive ways we use the internet but it is not without negatives.
Much of what we do with electronics seems to be addictive for most of us. I’m a news junky but there are so many news sites that they can never be read completely because their content is changing by the minute. Web magazines can keep me reading, watching videos and viewing picture galleries for hours. I find myself having to look at headlines and make a conscious decision whether it is worth reading. Our Email boxes fill up with a few important items and lots of spam or advertising. I have learned how to create filters so that repeated emails from the same source are automatically deleted and I never see them, but I still have to deal with some. Some days I discover that I have spent so much time on emails and information sites that I fail to accomplish other things I wanted to do and have ignored Rita for hours even though we are in the same house.
When the electronics get out of perspective, we see couples or groups of people in a social setting where sociability has been lost as everyone is surfing the web or texting someone who isn’t in the room. I don’t think we should ban electronics in those situations, but there needs to be a balance that keeps social interaction alive. There has even been a survey done that shows that some couples text while having sex. Not much intimacy can be had there.
Sometimes we hear parents of teens complain about how much time their child spends tweeting or texting their friends. This is neither a new complaint nor limited to the digital age. When our children were growing up parents complained about teens spending too much time with their friends on the phone, instead of doing homework. Maybe some of you remember. But this too is not limited to teens – couples can have dinner together without ever speaking to each other. The question to ask is, “how does this affect the intimacy you are striving to create in your relationship?”
Many couples rely on the internet to get relationship advice. It can be detrimental as the two of you might be different than the person who has posted the advice. There is also conflicting information and it is virtually impossible to do all the suggestions for you to have “the best…” As in all things on the interned there is too much information to sift through and almost no control over quality or even accuracy of facts presented. Some of it is deliberately designed to mislead the unwary. Much of this is aimed at women, perhaps because they read more things on relationship and the man may not know where suggestions or expectations come from. It is a good idea to check the sources of the information you find on the internet and tell each other about what you have read and discuss what might be helpful to the two of you.
Electronics allow us to communicate with each other and others easily, meaning that it is also easier to bully or harass another person. Couples find it possible to fight via texting. I also find a few comments on Facebook from some couples a little disconcerting. What is put in written form can’t be taken back. Fighting for your relationship may need to happen, but stop and consider whether it should take place face to face or via other ways to communicate.
Using the internet to handle finances can be good but it can be another way to keep information from each other, especially if the other is not computer literate or time has not been taken to include the other. We work at and still need to work more at including Rita in all the financial information I have stored on my computer. The one who has controls the computer in financial situations has great power.
Passwords can be another source of stress and arguments. Some couples think they should be private and not shared but is that good for your relationship. It doesn’t matter what the password is for—computer, tablet or phone. There should be no information there that can’ be shared. The use of electronics needs to enhance your relationship not cause tension or arguments.
In spite of the downsides of using electronic devices we find them useful and they often make a positive contribution to conversations. We try always to be conscious to turn phones off in public places where they can interfere with a service or performance, especially at Mass. We have decided that the whole world doesn’t need to listen into our personal lives. If a phone call needs to be taken we try to avoid talking loudly. Most often we leave the situation and take the call in a private area. We find the electronics in our lives and the internet useful and supportive of our couple relationship and other important relationships in our lives. We’re not about to give it up, but are aware that it needs to be kept sufficiently contained that it does not take away from the good we find in it. Nothing can take the place of speaking and listening to each other in a face to face situation.
How do you and your spouse use the electronics you have? Can you see the benefits and drawbacks of all forms of electronics in your lives? Is any aspect of it out of balance? How can you use electronics to enhance or create greater intimacy in your lives? We’d like to hear your comments, below.
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com or by contacting us. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Make a retreat with your spouse, at home, on your time. Readings, relationship tips, questions for discussion.