While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.
How do you use technology to build and/or sustain relationships? How can technology hinder your ability to build relationships?
As I sit down to write this, it’s international friendship day (July 30). I am sitting outside at a café, waiting for fellow American Canary and dear friend Katie Baxter to join me. Katie and I met in college and our friendship formed in similar café spaces over coffee or beer and conversation. However, our friendship solidified when we used technology to keep in touch as we both moved about the world, traveling, working and growing as women. All we needed to update one another on our location, latest happenings and state of mind was an internet connection. It allowed me to access solace and inspiration for any specific situation.
Reflecting on the intricacies of defining friendship and how it is formed, sustained and evolves, I am tempted to say that relationships with friends and loved ones are evolving alongside technology. We now have opportunities to include those who are closest to us in the smallest moments of our day. Across the sea, or across the street, people can connect, share, and form consistent relationships without hindrance of time and space.
With most of the prompts we look at in our blog, like “How can technology hinder your ability to build relationships?”, I keep going to a place of yes (or I immediately would answer yes.) Yes, technology can hinder our ability to build relationships because I also believe that a uniquely formed connection with someone can create a lasting impression and set the foundation to be in a relationship with another person. Even without knowing moment to moment what is taking place in someone’s life, the depths of consideration around the human experience allows us to “maintain” a sense of friendship, relationship and care.
In a world where technology doesn’t exist and Katie and my paths crossed unexpectedly after a decade of dust, It wouldn’t surprise me that we would re-establish our connection, and after a few awkward moments of “catching up” we would be laughing and sharing curiosities like no time had passed. Technology wouldn’t hinder that….. I wonder if younger people for whom technology has been ingrained in their entire existence, can even begin to imagine a different experience.
If it weren’t for technology, I’d no longer have my best friends. After graduating college my best friend moved to Florida. 1,405 miles from me to be exact. My childhood friend left our hometown for grad school and is now 1,882 miles from me. And my college roommate will be moving to England in February. Making us 3,243 miles apart. Yet none of our relationships have ever been better.
Technology keeps my relationships with my friends secure. I am able to Facetime them and see their posts on Instagram and Snapchat to stay updated on their lives. Obviously, I wish I could spend more time with them, and for a while I started to think that everyone was trying to move as far away from me as possible, but I’m grateful for the relationships that I do get to maintain because of technology.
As I thought about technology’s influence on my relationships I started to think about the online hate and insecurities that everyone faces, but with each of those negative thoughts, all I could think of is everything that technology has given me.
Technology has given me the ability to be a part of moments that I would’ve never been able to before. I remember when I was a Freshman in college and received a Facetime from my brother that was him and his now wife telling me that they had just gotten engaged. I also received a Facetime while studying abroad in England showing me an ultrasound that said that I was going to be an aunt for the first time. Even though I wasn’t home with my family, I still got the chance to be a part of both of those moments because of technology. And that is something that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
All of the relationships that I have mentioned so far have been well maintained using technology but were built in real life. I do believe that technology has the ability to hinder your ability to form new relationships because we tend to hide a lot of ourselves online. I believe that it depends on the person and whether or not they have the ability to be who they really are online. I personally would rather build relationships in person since I spend so much of my daily life online already. But once that relationship is established technology can be an amazing thing to help maintain relationships with those that you might otherwise lose touch with or to be a part of things you would miss out on before.
Although at times it pains me to say this if it wasn’t for Facebook I may not have the life I do right now. Flashback to my senior year of college. I am sitting on my laptop planning a trip to Colorado to visit a grad program in Boulder I had recently been accepted into. It was 2009 and I was a bit late to the Facebook game and still didn’t see the value of being on the space (still struggling with that), I had an enriching social and educational experience, I connected with new people all the time, why did I need a computer to help me to do something I have always done so well? I liked my network and didn’t see a reason to expand it further. That was until I studied abroad earlier in the year and realized that I didn’t have to live in the 20th century sending letters to my friends and I saw Facebook as a way to maintain my long distance connections.
So there I was sitting at my laptop planning my trip, since I was online and “active” I was naturally logged onto Facebook to see if any of my friends were as well, checking to see whose green light came on as I waited for pages to load on other browser tabs.
Thomas Haina and I have known each other since we were kids and had reconnected when I returned from abroad that summer. When he moved back to Wyoming at the end of the summer, he was cataloged into the long distance friend section of my social network. However, when his green active light came on Facebook I decided to message him that day in the hopes he would know someone in Colorado I could crash with. To make a very long and somewhat personal story short, that one conversation became the first of many we had online, over the phone and eventually in person when he moved back to New York after I accepted a spot at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
I would not say that Facebook or any digital media technology has helped me sustain my relationship with Thomas, if anything at times it can hinder our connectedness, but it has allowed me to connect and sustain relationships across the globe. These relationships would not be as substantial or strong without the glimpses into their lives that are provided by digital tools and I am still in awe at the abilities to connect instantaneously across space and time, to share moments, ideas and emotions with others whenever I wish.
It is those abilities that drew me to becoming a digital media professional, a storyteller, a lover of all new creative technologies, but it is my time in the trenches of technology and social media spaces that has me questioning whether these benefits outweigh the negative impacts technology and social media can have on relationships. I watch young people struggle to find themselves, lost on the internet, being bullied to fit a mold that has been warped and curated into an unattainable goal. I watch families and friends all sit around, eyes glued to their phones, when they should be glued to the moments unraveling before them. I watch hate pour out from every corner of the globe with the most media illiterate helping to amplify all the mis and disinformation they come across.
I fear that if we do not begin to address the crisis of media literacy in this country we will diminish all hope for using these technologies to their greatest potential. We will lay waste to every benefit as we continue to divide and demean one another online. We will fill the space with such useless information that truth will suffocate and die.
We now have access to incredible abilities to communicate and connect and I hope we can find our way through the noise to make meaningful connections that will help strengthen our communities.
actions to take
Plan technology free activities
Create Technology Free Spaces
Reflect on how the media you consume and technology you use impacts your relationships
Share your experience with us!
Connect with an AC member for a one on one chat.