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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?
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Not Tonight, Honey

Technology makes our lives easier, agrees O'Neill from the Menninger Clinic. But he also worries that loss of face-to-face and hand-to-hand contact can drain the essential human element from day-to-day dealings.

"I think when you start talking about text messaging, emailing, answering the phone, spending the time online, then I'm starting to think about how does that interfere with some of the basic human connections? Being able to look somebody in the eye and talk about love, and fear, and anger -- all the wonderful things but also all the necessary things that can be uncomfortable."

O'Neill says that for many people workplace technology has spread like a fungus, extending its reaches into the home and other once-private spaces.

"When someone gets up in the morning, they may check their email first thing in the morning, and then they jump in their car and talk on their cell phone or check messages all the way to work," he says. "Then they work all day and on the way home they're talking on the phone and checking messages again. So there really isn't that time anymore to unwind and prepare, and whether they're workaholics or not, more and more people are at risk for just getting exhausted."

O'Neill cites the following warning signs that technology may be coming between you and your loved ones:

  • You spend more time on email or returning phone calls than in activities with family of friends.
  • You're late for appointments or engagements because you got caught up in texting, surfing, or talking on the phone.
  • You text, send email, or leave voicemail when face-to face interactions would be more appropriate.
  • Your family and friends ask you to stop, but you can't, and you get irritated when others complain about your use of technology.

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.

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