We don’t even realizeit’s happening

The rate of change in technology is a subject we now discuss regularly. Cultural acceptance of new ideas is happening incredibly fast. Mostly, what we’re seeing is the digitization of every industry. It started with us finding news online. Then we came to see the internet as a place we could listen to radio and watch TV. Now, with Fintech, banking is starting to feel it’s ownership of ‘trust’ subject to the competition that digital offerings provide. AirBnB, Uber and Silicon Valley Unicorns are what makes the news.

In the background, however, digitization is having an effect on other areas of our lives. A number of communication developments have crept in to our lives like a rising tide. Primary among them are the rise of the smartphone and phone plan with large data allowances. Evidentially, they’ve arrived so slowly that we rarely question their presence. How many of us would send a ‘proper’ letter now rather than an email or WhatsApp message? Each of these advancements in digital human interaction has a both positive and negative impact.

‘Intimate’ messages are now a firm part of our relationships

Those working for phone companies when MMS (Multi-Media Messaging – SMSs with pictures) arrived soon realized what the technology was primarily being used for. I vividly remember being in a meeting with a very senior member of staff struggling to find work appropriate words to describe what people sent over the MMS network. ‘Pink bits’ is how she described it.

So called ‘sexting’ is now a part of many intimate relationships, connecting couples when they’re separated by distances they can’t travel conveniently. For most it is harmless fun, an addendum to the physical side of their relationship.

However, with the ubiquity of sexting comes the exceptions to the rule. Once created, digital assets stay in the cloud forever. Spurned partners, both male and female have used what a once trusted and loved other half sent them to shame. The results of this internet bullying are clear and have been called out in multiple studies. It is intensely embarrassing and humiliating to have private moments shared with an audience who was not supposed to see them.

Social Media helps and hinders with friends, family and life

It’s amazing to think that Facebook started, for most of us, only around a decade ago. In that time it has fundamentally changed the way we relate to each other. Old friendships can be renewed, irrespective of how far away the two people involved are. We learn more about each other than we ever used to – being ‘treated’ to images of what our social circle are seeing and the meals they have.

Social media, too, has a dark side. For the nervous and anxious, it can appear a ‘safe’ way to interact socially. Unfortunately, many who succumb to the apparent charm of these interactions substitute digital friendships for real life flesh and blood bonds with family members, to their detriment.

Finding a partner using an algorithm developed by someone else

Internet dating is another feature of our age. Some American reports suggest that 10% of all real life marriages start online now. I met my wife on eHarmony, for example and credit that website with finding a woman capable of the patience required to have a stable relationship with me.

But those who engage in internet dating also have to put up with the negative sides – ghosting, for example, in which, inexplicably, someone with whom you were having fun suddenly disappears from your life. The lack of what psychologists call ‘closure’ and use of a digital medium to avoid what many would consider common decency – a face to face ‘no thanks’ can scar those who suffer it.

Summing up the impact of digital advances on our relationships

We have little choice but to accept digital advances in to our lives. With phone plans and smartphones getting cheaper each year, the journey has just begun. Simple awareness of the down side of these technology can help us navigate the new waters. As with any technology, these new facilities can be used for good or bad and we each have a responsibility to know the difference.