Technology-driven society and human connectivity

Effective communication will help us resolve conflicts and help us to be more successful in our family and social relationships, as well as relationships with co-workers.

Smartphone (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: ISSEI KATO/REUTERS)
We live in the modern world. Many of the things we are familiar with such as computers, smartphones and even robots, have improved our lives immensely. Nevertheless, there are important downsides to some of these inventions.
Donovan A. McFarlane, professor of business administration at Frederick Taylor University, who has written extensively on social communication in today’s technology-driven society says, “Time spent in social interaction, which is part of the communication process, has decreased dramatically in all familiar settings and social institutions, from the family to the school.”
He argues that people today choose time efficiency over communication effectiveness as social and economic factors increasingly pressure people to respond quickly. Quickness is the name of the game in getting your message out.
The core of human attachment depends on effective nonverbal and verbal communication skills. However, we are not born with effective communication skills; they are learned. In my private practice, I see many examples of connectivity and communication problems.
I treated one mother, for instance, who was busy looking at her cellphone rather than her infant. She was completely unaware of how addictive her phone had become for her.
I have seen many examples of people checking their phones continuously at the expense of saying good morning or having a leisurely conversation with one another. Some of my clients even answer their cellphones during a psychotherapy session. I once asked one of my clients why he does so, considering the money he is spending for 50 minutes of my time. He looked at me dumbfounded and said that he did not have an answer, admitting that it was just a habit.
How often do people return home from work or school, and rather than asking a family member how their day was, they go right to their computer to check for messages. One family I treated described a typical family meal, a rare event, as everyone bringing their connected device such as phone or iPad to the dinner table. Often teens returning home go right to their room, and many parents have reported to me that their kids stay in their rooms endlessly and on their computers. What is missing is face-to-face time spent with friends.
A common marital complaint that I see in my practice is that one partner feels rejected by the other partner who is spending so much time on his/her computer. These devices are blocking effective communication in couples. Sometimes both partners are on their devices rather than asking each other questions about how their day went. Social scientists observe that in today’s technologically driven society, these devices are powerful distractions that undermine family and marital connectedness.
Below, I list some things that people can do to counteract the technology driven human connectivity problems that I have described.
• Listen, really listen: If you do not really listen wholeheartedly, you will not accurately hear and understand what your partner, family member or coworker is trying to say.
• Ask questions and repeat what the other person said: At the core of effective listening is validation that you clearly understood the message that the other person is sending.
• Watch your body language: You will be surprised how often we think we are listening, but our body language is saying, “I am not really interested” or “something else is more important.” Are you folding your arms and looking impatient? Are you looking directly at the person speaking or are you fidgeting with something or checking your cellphone for messages? • Up your empathy: Make a concerted effort to show real concern for the person you are listening to by giving your full attention and trying to show you really care.
• Create an atmosphere for unhurried communication: Think carefully as to where you and the other person are going to have a conversation. Try to limit all unnecessary interruptions. Do not answer the phone and be sure to close the door for a private conversation. This is also an effective way to build trust and be responsive to the other person.
• Tailor your communication to your audience: Try an out-of-the-box location for a talk. Some of the best talks that I remember having with my sons while they were growing up were during our breaks on the basketball courts.
• Listen carefully and think before responding: For many people, this is a very hard skill to learn. Sometimes we respond quickly because we are defensive, or we do not want to lose a thought, and as a result we quickly blurt out a response. Remember, getting your message out is important, but good communication also requires thinking through how what you say will affect the other person.
Effective communication will help us resolve conflicts and help us to be more successful in our family and social relationships, as well as relationships with co-workers. At a time when emerging technologies and devices are serving us so well, we need to make a greater effort to safeguard and hold onto our human connection with one another.
■ The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist, with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana.,