The other morning, Adam was looking grumpy on our way to school and I asked him what happened. He was apparently playing with his iPad before breakfast, and Ron walked into the room looking a little frustrated. “Adam, you should be using this time to practice with your lacrosse stick – not playing on the iPad.” Just like those old smoking and drug Ad Council ads, Adam shot back at Ron, “Well, you’re always on your iPhone!” Like father, like son.
And there I was, caught – blackberry in hand (Ron was driving). Like mother, like entire family. Setting it down, I quickly diffused the situation in the car.
“Let’s make a deal. No one will use any blackberries, iPhones or iPads while we get ready in the morning, eat breakfast and drop off Adam at school. It’s not worth ruining our morning, and we should be spending time together instead of looking at our gadgets.”
We all agreed, although Adam was not happy about not playing on the iPad in the morning. But this whole interaction really got me thinking about technology and its role within relationships. And I’m thinking about it, not just in terms of getting kids outside and active, but what if we’d had the entire conversation through text or email?
Ron: Adam, Practice with your lacrosse stick and stop playing with the iPad
Adam: UR always on UR phone!
Sheila: This is ruining our morning. Let’s all make a deal: no bberries or igadgets at the table.
How do you make an emoticon that expresses the right tone of voice to diffuse a situation like this? A happy face just doesn’t suffice. As a result, our technological relationships are lacking in nuanced emotion. Those small little signals that we give each other through voice and body movements are left out of the conversation. I feel like this new information exchange model is both beneficial and dangerous.
Relationships are becoming more efficient.
For example, Care.com is a Skype company. We are constantly communicating through an instant messaging system that quickly sends information from tech to marketing to member care. The result? We are quick and direct. We can communicate simultaneously with multiple people and keep everyone up to speed on many different projects – all at the same time and without leaving our desks. During the day, I am texting with Ron and Ryan, who is away at college. We are constantly navigating our daily lives through an intricate combination of emails and texts. I’m even Facebooking with my parents – the fastest growing generation on the site! At Care.com, we encourage families to use technology to keep in touch with their caregivers. Have the nanny send pics of the little ones at the playground while you’re in the office. Ask the babysitter to send a quick text for minor emergencies, like getting locked out of the house.
Relationships are becoming transactional.
While we may be quick, we do lose out on those little signals. A head nod, a confused expression, or just that little extra humanizing something that can diffuse a heated situation or truly celebrate a happy moment. Instead of a face-to-face connection, we are simply exchanging information – I trade mine for yours. Pamela Paul’s New York Times article said it best: “Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You.” Is calling without emailing first really considered just a rude interruption – if you bother to call at all? Personality, self-expression, and even auditory cues are boiled down to a colon and a parenthesis.
Warming Up the Cold Tech World
In both my personal and professional relationships, I celebrate the efficiencies of technological communication, but also mourn the casualties. I do try and revive some of those old feelings triggered by things like old-fashioned eye contact or a reassuring pat on the shoulder. As bare bones as they are, emoticons are essential. When I can, I make it a priority to have face-to-face meetings, both with colleagues and with friends. And I don’t carry my blackberry around with me in the office throughout the day. We’ve started having video chat conferences with our New York office, which has surprisingly helped to eradicate some of the confusion that working in different locations can cause. And, despite technology, I’m still a huge believer in hand-written notes. That’s why I advise a company called Jack Cards, which helps families send personalized, handwritten cards to loved ones.
Join the discussion and post a comment: How do you warm up your technological world? Do you meet anyone face-to-face when a simple text or email would get the job done? Do you still make phone calls without e-mailing first? How do you add that human touch?