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Love in the Time of Caller ID

When we’re always in touch but never in reach, can true love blossom?

Not Tonight, Honey continued...

Often when we're absorbed in electronic communications we may be oblivious to how our actions hurt others, O'Neill says. He gives the hypothetical example of a father-and-son outing at a ball game. The father, talking on his cell phone, makes a distracted grab at a foul ball, but misses and goes on with the call as if nothing had happened.

"What could have been a significant bonding moment was derailed by the father's inability to disconnect from technology," O'Neill says.

Real-life examples also abound. Sue Hoogenstraat said that discovering her husband's virtual infidelity was "devastating" and that she felt devalued. Or as a New York Times reader identified as Luca wrote in response to an article about whether BlackBerry use enhances or inhibits family relationships, "We all know how emotionally difficult it is sometimes to switch between roles in a matter of minutes; I can hardly believe the BlackBerry helps in any way to accomplish that. I now carry a cell only when I am with my family; I want to be there and share emotions with them; with the 'berry' I felt like I was always plugged somewhere else somehow."

That strategy is a sound one, says O'Neill, who acknowledges that throwing out your cell phone is neither realistic nor, in the current age, practical.

"Instead, I think we have to take a step back and say, 'Wait a minute, is this what we really intended technology to do for us? To be this great interrupter? Or did we intend it to be something that benefits us, that allows us to stay connected?'" he says.

O'Neill counsels his patients to develop rules and set limits on their use of technology, pointing out that there's no substitute for personal attention and simple human contact.

"In the end," he says, "we need to be present in both mind and body to build and maintain healthy relationships."

Reviewed on February 04, 2009
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