Digital Dialogue Reflection: Conversations about how Technology Impacts Our Relationships

The first week of June, David Jay of the Center for Humane Technology and I co-hosted a Living Room Conversation about how technology is impacting our relationships, a conversation titled Digital Dialogue.  Conversation participants were two teens, a leader in the world of mindfulness, a new father, and two mothers–one with children 12 and under, one the mother of adults.   What a thought provoking conversation! It was an opportunity to reflect together on how technology is changing our relationships on multiple levels. And for parents it was an opportunity to think about how to parent, navigating the very different dynamics that our technology has created.

Listening to the teens who were attempting to limit their time on social media, I was struck by how hard it is. The social pressure to participate is substantial. Many kids who want to be “normal” feel the need to be connected in order to be part of a social group. Being a non-conformist isn’t easy.   On one hand the connections can be great, but on the other, the connection may be disappointing and being online can eat up time in an extraordinary way. Many kids are sleep deprived and their technology is a significant factor in the equation. Should people value in-person connection more than online? I’ve thought before that it is odd to see people together, each one relating to a device rather than directly to each other. Is this old fashioned or good sense?

“What is a parent to do?” Many parents are banding together to put off what seems to be the inevitable acquisition of smart phones, limiting screen time, navigating with their kids how to optimize their use of technology. And then there are the young children. What is best for them? No screen time? Occasional screen time so parents can have a break? Or more?

Video is a wonderful way to be able to stay in touch with family at a distance. Small children can see as well as talk to grandparents. In my household video is a way to stay well connected with a son in Singapore and a mother-in-law in Phoenix. We often have meals together. I have treasured friendships that have been nurtured by our ability to share our lives online. And at the same time, my in-person conversations have been interrupted by technology. Simple things like standing in line together is not what it used to be. Rather than make that effort to converse, my partner is likely to refer to his phone – perhaps sharing what he sees–but this is not the same.

I left this conversation with a sense that it was just a start. I was reminded in particular of discomfort with my peers in my youth because I didn’t conform by drinking alcohol.  And recognizing that this technology thing creates vastly more pressure to conform.

We had a second Digital Dialogue conversation 5 days later because so many people wanted to join the first conversation! Another powerful conversation across generations. This group decided they wanted to continue the conversation too.  So our next conversation will be in July.

It appears that this conversation has the potential to be a breakthrough event.  We are all impacted by our changing technology. We have not yet developed the shared norms we need for these new social dynamics. Talking together about technology in our lives is a gracious and rewarding opportunity to deepen our understanding of how it is impacting us and how we might be more intentional in our use of technology.

As a person committed to healing political division, this conversation is golden. Politics are near irrelevant. As we talk about who we want to be as human beings in relation to our changing technology, we develop appreciation for each other. And then we may venture beyond with already good relationships as our foundation.

I imagine this conversation taking off in libraries, faith communities, schools, clubs– anywhere people are being impacted by this change in our culture….and isn’t that everywhere?