Computers have increasingly become an integral, even intimate, part of our daily life. They have changed the way we do our work and the way we communicate with others, but they also have become a huge source of distraction, even discord, in our relationships. Americans are falling in love with their computers.
Technology has made it possible for people to work on their computers almost anytime, anywhere. "Eighty-four percent of people are more dependent on their computers than they were a couple of years ago," Technology consultant Anthony Rodio says. That's why so many people have difficulty getting off-line.
Rodio says people who rely on their computer for work are more likely to have a strong relationship with it at home as well. "Frequently, when they get home, they get on it under the pretense that they're getting on it for work. But they quickly devolve into doing other types of surfing as well."
A survey by Rodio's company, Support.com, found that the user-computer relationship often interferes with the user's human relationship. "Almost two-thirds of Americans now say they spend more time with their computer than their spouse," he says.
This close reliance on computers can affect the time people do spend with others. "If there is a problem with your computer, feelings are so intense because you are so dependent on your computer," he says. "It leads to anger, alienation and sadness. That then spills over into problems in their personal relationship as well.
Psychotherapist Linda Miles, co-author of The New Marriage, says computers have become a distraction in many relationships. "You can go for weeks and weeks and not even look at your partner," she says. "It's very important to make connections everyday with your partner, to not put up walls with each other."
Technology can become an addiction, according to relationship expert David Coleman, the "Dating Doctor." He compares it to having an affair. "You would say someone is having an affair, that used to mean that they are having an affair with another person," he says. "That doesn't necessarily mean that anymore. People can have an affair with technology. They can have an affair with their computers, basically being on their computer all the time. You've heard over the years about the responsible use of alcohol, the responsible use of tobacco, I think we're heading toward [needing to talk about] the responsible use of electronics."
People use technology not just to get information, but to communicate. Coleman warns that relying too heavily on e-mails, text messages and instant messages can hurt a personal relationship, because there's no give and take, no chance to see the other person's reaction. "Let's say that you are in a relationship with someone and there is something that you really need to discuss with that person about that relationship," he says. "Before, you would normally do it face to face. Now a lot of people text each other, or they send an e-mail to each other. What that does is it lets them get their entire point out, exactly the way they want to say it, without any chance of being interrupted. It's very one sided, until you get the response back from the other person."
However, Coleman says, if used properly, technology can enhance personal relationships. "Let's say that the person you're involved with -- your husband, your wife, a boyfriend or a girlfriend -- you know that they have a very tough day and you don't want to bother them during that day, you can send them a simple text-message that says, 'I'm thinking about you, I love you, hang in there.'"
As Americans celebrate Valentine's Day this week (February 14), Coleman suggests that dedicating more time and undivided attention in person can be the best gift to loved ones, especially in our high-tech world.