Technology in relationships: A benefit or a hindrance?

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    “Text me,” “let’s Skype,” “shoot me an email,” “Facebook me,” “Tweet me” are among the common phrases one hears after trudging through the halls of a high school or university campus. These simple phrases are becoming common as the millennial generation and others have started to rely on new technology to express themselves and develop relationships with those also connected through the virtual world.

    Some see technology as the means to easier and faster communication, while others see its detrimental effects on relationships. Technology is a double-edged sword that can enhance, maintain and build relationships or contribute to more complacent communication. At BYU, technology has had a profound effect on dating and family connections.

    Effects of technology on dating

    After meeting on LDS Planet, an online dating site, and maintaining a long-distance relationship through Skype and email, Josh Weber finally married the girl of his dreams. Weber, an English major at BYU, became a member on LDS Planet even though he originally swore he would never participate in online dating sites.

    “I never wanted to make the Internet the basis of my relationship,” Weber said. “But I found out that I could use it to find more options.”

    Weber said the dating site was a way for him to avoid hurtful rejection. Weber said because there is no obligation to say yes to a date online, members actually get to interact with people that are interested in building a relationship.

    “It was a way to do something different,” Weber said. “The way I was dating wasn’t working. I was trapped into people that didn’t want to be dating. I was continually spending money and not getting anywhere.”

    Within a week of exploring and finding those with similar interests on LDS Planet, Weber connected with his wife-to-be. The two maintained a long-distance relationship throughout the summer through “transparent” technology like email and Skype.  A week after being home from his summer job, the two were engaged.

    “I never felt like we were playing games with each other,” Weber said. “We both wanted to be honest and upfront because we wanted to be in it for the long run.”

    Larry Nelson, family life professor at BYU, said when it comes to technology in dating relationships, there is no “black and white,” rather, it is “all dependent on how people use it.”

    “Dating provides the opportunity to learn to commit,” Nelson said. “But the attitude today is that ‘I am going to commit to you for the next two hours,’ and yet I refer to it as telephone infidelity. Telephone infidelity is when you are with one person, but the whole night you are texting other people. This really harms a person’s ability to commit if they are so connected to their phone that they can’t devote themselves to one person for a couple of hours.”

    Guy Dorius, who holds a doctorate in family studies, said he knows of four marriages that ended or were in critical condition because of re-connection through avenues such as Facebook. Dorius said he believes that the use of technology, if not used wisely, disconnects daters from the people that are right in front of them.

    “Sometimes I will see couples on their cell phones when they are together,” Dorius said. “I think that it distracts you from the one that you are with, because you are with so many at the same time.There is an old song called, ‘Love the One You are With,’ and technology makes it hard to love the one that you are with.”

    Effects of technology on families and children

    Moms use technology to stay in touch with missionaries, kids at college and old friends. For Teri Bench, a mother from Orem, technology has kept her connected with her children all throughout the country.

    “For my kids that are married, how I know what is going on in their lives is by Facebook,” Bench said. “Looking back, I would have called my mom whenever there were updates in my life, but my daughter just updates her blog and I can check in whenever I am interested and at my own convenience.”

    Bench said she uses technology “multiple times a day” to stay in touch with both her children at home as well as those who are married. Bench said that texting allows her to communicate without getting wrapped up in long conversations. Overall, Bench said technology is not “good or bad” for her familial relationships.

    “There are so many variables when it comes to relationships with your kids,” Bench said. “It is more than technology — it’s background, experiences and personalities. I don’t blame technology for having a good or bad relationship with my kids, I blame myself.”

    Jorden Mortensen, a student at BYU studying exercise science, said his mom uses technology to maintain their relationship by sending him texts on a daily basis and emails once a week with “Mom’s Sunday Devotional.”

    Mortensen said using technology is his mom’s way to continue to influence her kids. Mortensen said he likes technology to stay in contact with his mom because it is more convenient and less time consuming. As a busy college student, Mortensen said things like email and texting keep him connected to his mom easily.

    “Technology is unique with mothers because they always tend to give more than they receive,” Mortensen said. “Technology has helped me to give back to my mom where I can.”

    Nelson said technology in family relationships can be detrimental, but he also said it can be enhancing for those who use it wisely. When it comes to children and families, Nelson called the connection between relationships and technology “bidirectional.”

    “The use of technology in relationships will make it worse for those who are already lacking in social skills, and therefore that is why they are using it as much as they do,” Nelson said. “Technology robs many children from settings in which they can overcome fears or develop skills and abilities.”

    Dorius said he gets emails from students at 3 a.m. With the invention of smartphones and other technology, Dorius said the father’s ability to create a relationship with his family is much more difficult, as fathers never actually “leave work.” Dorius said he is unsure if the facilitation offered through technology is outweighed by the lack of civility often demonstrated by those who use it.

    “You never leave anything behind, because you have everything at your fingertips,” Dorius said.

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