Recently I wrote an article for the Washingtonian blog, Washington Voices, Over Stimulated Yet Empty: You’re Not Alone where I discussed the effects of smartphone technology and social media on our emotional health which contribute to our feelings of emptiness. This is what I said
“Everywhere I go, I see people on their phones. It’s so commonplace that I’m no longer surprised to see everyone focused on little hand-held devices in places once reserved for relaxation, quiet, or socializing. Restaurants are filled with people playing with phones instead of interacting with each other. Out at dinner with friends, I’ve almost stopped feeling surprised when I get pushed aside for a text or phone call that they claim just can’t wait—though it certainly still feels dismissive. Instead of being emotionally with the people who surround us, we’re all conversing electronically with people who aren’t there.
Trying to understand this behavior is important. Perhaps it shows us how much trouble we have being alone or really connecting with other people, since so many of us find it easier and even more appealing to connect electronically across vast distances. I suspect that these devices manage our intimacy—no app can substitute for true connectedness, but if true connectedness makes us uncomfortable, perhaps that’s why we turn to technology.
Smartphones are wonderful distractions that help us avoid sitting quietly, actually feeling the possibility that something may be gnawing at us or we may feel too alone . Today, most people jump in the car and get on the phone immediately in lieu of sitting quietly with their thoughts while driving. Being a psychotherapist, I know better than to do this, and yet I, too, find myself looking for distractions from the quiet of my time in the car. The silence of being alone with feelings and thoughts can be uncomfortable even for me.
The fact that our world never requires us to wait and be patient—after all, we can have anything we want with the click of a button—makes us even more anxious when potential quiet times present themselves. And rather than try to embrace them, we fill them up.”
In the article I discussed the need for find true connectedness in our lives outside of our smart phones. What I said was that “[t]here are many ways of understanding feelings of emptiness, but two important factors seem to me like the most regular contributors. The first is a lack of connectedness. With modern technology offering a constant flow of opportunities to connect, we expect closeness to be more easily experienced, but I think that our constant use of technology to build and maintain relationships actually removes the intimacy of simply bonding with other people. Technology does not provide an opportunity to truly be seen, heard, or even held. It affords us opportunities to connect more frequently, but these connections are superficial, and they leave us feeling emptier. “
The bottom line is that new forms of technology can never replace the benefits from talking and sharing directly with another human.