Today’s paper has an article about how hard it is to preserve tight family relationships in a world where we have so many other relationships. It offered 10 signs your friendships might be hurting your family relationships:
- You can’t get through a meal without having a friend join you.
- You enjoy talking with more than one friend at a time.
- You often think about other friends while you are with your family.
- You sleep with a teddy bear that reminds you of one of your friends, and you like to think about the good times you’ve had with your friends while you’re falling asleep.
- You enjoy having your friends come over for a visit before you’ve gotten up and dressed for the day.
- You’ve argued with a loved one about how much time you spend with your friends.
- You are a great listener, so you always look your friends in the eye when they are talking, even if you are driving at the time.
- You no longer go outside with your friends, and instead spend time with them at home or a café.
- You never tell your friends that you’re unavailable to them.
- When you spend time with your family, each of them likes to bring along a friend.
OK, that’s not how the Wall Street Journal put it. Their story, Your BlackBerry or Your Wife, is yet another dose of hand-wringing about life online, but with the added bonus of a sexist title. And their extraordinarily nuanced diagnostic tool wasn’t about the way your outside friendships affect your family, but rather, the 10 Signs Your Devices Are Hurting Your Relationships:
- You can’t get through a meal without emailing, texting or talking on the phone.
- You look at more than one screen at a time, checking email while watching television, for example.
- You regularly email or text, other than for something urgent, while your partner or another family member is with you.
- You sleep with your phone near you, and you check your email or texts while in bed.
- You log onto your computer while in bed.
- You have had an argument with a loved one about your use of technology.
- You text or email while driving.
- You no longer go outside for fun.
- You never turn off your phone.
- When you spend time with your family—a meal, a drive, hanging out—each person is looking at a different screen.
With the exception of #7 — which is no less stupid than looking a passenger in the eye while you’re driving — these troubling signs are only troubling because we’re still getting used to the idea of online. But recognize online for what it is — a new venue and way of creating and maintaining relationships — and you realize that what we’re mostly talking about are the choices people make around how and when to connect with people who don’t happen to be in the same room.
For now, it still feels uncomfortable to us, a lot of the time. And that’s ok; just as it’s ok to ask your partner, or your kid, or your mom to put down the phone and pay attention to you because it just doesn’t feel good to you when they are engaging with someone else while they’re talking to you. (The same way you might tell your kid to stop interrupting you while you’re talking with your spouse at the dinner table.)
But just because we are still finding our e-legs — establishing our comfort around how and where to fit online life into our offline existences — doesn’t mean that the urge to go online is a sign of some kind of pathology. It’s mostly a sign of one thing: a desire to connect.
So the next time someone in your family picks up the phone or the computer or the iPad while at the dinner table, why don’t you offer to connect with them instead. And I’m pretty sure that criticizing their tech choices won’t be the way to do it.