Instead, your phone buzzes and you look down: It’s a push alert from Facebook. You’ve just been tagged in a “relationship” with ... your dinner date.
Is this an over-the-top scenario, or do we too often find ourselves managing a relationship on a phone rather than enjoying the actual relationship?
How phones affect relationships and what our dependence on mobile technology reveals about us moved somewhat beyond casual talk and academic studies when gadget service Gazelle surveyed 1,000 customers and found that 15 percent would rather give up sex than go a weekend without an iPhone. Less alarmingly (although it’s questionable how alarming a 1,000-person customer survey could be), 25 percent said they “almost always” use their iPhone in social settings.
The bad touch
If you think individuals’ relationships with their phones is superficial, think again.
Apple sales employees are trained to ask permission before touching a customer’s iPhone, according to a report in The New York Times. The implication of the training is clear: The phone is to be treated like a customer’s appendage.
“People view them as an extension of not only their physical selves, but their psychological selves,” said Professor James Katz, chair of the Department of Communication at Rutgers University. Katz also directs Rutger’s Center for Mobile Communication Studies.
“When things happen to the cell phone it’s almost visceral,” continued Katz. “It’s almost happening to them.”
And this relationship goes through a “life cycle,” he says. When we’re young, our connection to our cell phones gains in strength, reaching a height during our teenage years when, says Katz, the relationship is “quite intense.” In college that relationship “starts to ratchet down.” We ramp back up again in our 40s, as we begin to cope with growing families and the need for greater coordination.
“As the technology has evolved and changed to fit the needs of individuals, it really becomes a new platform for what humans have always done,” said Dr. Gian Gonzaga, Senior Director of Research & Development for online dating service eHarmony.com.
But that expansion into our lives produces, like anything, both positive and negative results.
The positive: “The technology gives us an opportunity to expand our natural inclinations in ways that give us immediate pleasure and change our social relationships and even change our physical health,” says Katz. Teenage boys, rather than suffer through a phone call with a changing voice, can merely ask someone out via text, which, according to Katz, “really fits in that sweet spot between the voice and handwriting.”
The dark side: “It can lead to a lot of obsessive compulsive behavior, in some cases even to stalking and harassment. And this is partly because of the combination of the social power of the communication, plus the ease of the technology.”