Technology and Relationships: Blessing, Curse, or Both?
Technology is best when it connects us and is questionable when it separates us. I suspect that any modality of technology can result in both connection and separation - and that is the blessing and the curse. The key to influencing the outcome is intention and attention. Learning to control these gives you the keys to the technological kingdom.
As a Health & Wellness Coach, my purpose is to help others identify what is nourishing to the body, mind, and spirit. I often speak of balancing hearts and minds, as well as bodies and souls. "Heart, spirit, and soul" are vague concepts, but they are more closely aligned to a meaningful life than the measurable components of body weight, composition, muscle strength, or brain power. A healthy body is only a portion of what we look for to have a good life. A good life is one filled with meaning and purpose and connection.
The cell phone is the go-to example for the technological blessing or curse question. Envision the family around the dinner table. Scene one: parents, children, and extended family and friends all passing fragrant, steaming plates of food; teasing, laughing, telling stories, cutting each other off in the telling and, through it all, deeply present with the food and the fraternity. In scene two, the food is there, but each person has a phone in one hand, eyes on the screens, pausing their fingers long enough to mindlessly pass some food along, eating one handed, absorbed in the information or entertainment in front of them. They are only minimally aware of the food and the company. Each may feel deeply engaged in their screens, but they are sacrificing the present moment.
Alternatively, the screens could be used to Skype or Zoom Grandma into dinner from her assisted living facility. Sure, it might be nicer if everyone was physically together, but if that can't happen, using technology to talk with Grandma and include her at the dinner table is pretty awesome. Intention and focus define the effect of the technological tool.
As a coach, I am aware of some intriguing platforms that would allow me to see a client's fitness tracking in real time and to respond within the app or through texting. While intriguing, it's clear to me that the technology could either make or break a coaching relationship. The marketing companies for these platforms often tout them as a way to grow your practice - to work with hundreds of clients at a time. And, indeed, it seems they could do so. But, the larger the numbers reach, the more automated the coaching "responses" become. The joy and benefit of the human touch and of being truly seen by the coach slip away into what feels like automated anonymity. We must again return to intention, attention, and focus.
Human interaction cannot be successfully scaled up and retain the essence of what makes it valuable in the first place. Seeing and being seen in the deepest sense - being heard, being understood, being appreciated - these things do not translate well when one-on-one or small group interaction is exceeded.
What about virtual reality - seeing a world of your choosing through lenses surrounding only your eyes? I make the same argument: the tool, in itself, is neutral. Is it a relationship killer, separating people from others by creating private viewing experiences? It could be, but I can imagine how the same headsets could connect individuals.
Could two people visit the same reality at the same time? Are they invited to talk about it with each other, during the experience or after? Are these two people strangers who meet digitally? If so, is there a way they can truly connect, on levels more profound than shared sensory experience? Or are they two people who do their laundry together, take their kids to school, or walk to school themselves?
Meditating with virtual reality could be used as a tool to calm racing thoughts and become fully present before gathering together with others. Being present is the open door to deepening existing connections and forging new ones.
That's the challenge: how do we use the technology for relationship building or consciously prioritizing our connections despite, or because of, technology. That's the blessing to be found.
Ellen J Reich
Ellen Judith Reich is joyfully moving into a new phase of life at 60. A wife and mom of two adult sons, Ellen has a law degree and an MFA in creative writing. She has tutored reading to adults and children and is a published author. She is now a certified Tiny Habits Coach and is pursuing certification as a Health & Wellness Coach with Wellcoaches. Her coaching business is called Deeply Nourish.