In 1983, the first commercial cellphone hit the market. In 1993, the first smartphone was developed. Today, 90 percent of Americans own a cellphone and 58 percent of them own a smartphone. It has been seven years since Apple brought the smartphone to a mass consumer market, and while it has brought people closer together, it has simultaneously driven people apart by making people less willing to engage in face-to-face interactions. As a result, the use of technology—namely, iPhones and iPads—has had a tremendous impact on personal relationships and intimacy.
Basically, since the advent of smartphones, we have all become crazier.
Just kidding. But, seriously… When did the difference between “Hey” and “Heyy” become so important that it started taking up minutes of our time to decide which to choose? Is it okay for me to text him first since he texted me first last time? Would a double text come off as too desperate? Should I friend request her or should I wait for her to friend request me? Or, simply, “Why hasn’t he texted me yet?” And, no, we aren’t the only ones. Sixty-seven percent of cell owners find themselves checking their phones for messages or calls—even when they don’t notice their phones ringing or vibrating. Waiting for a text or for a response to a friend request has become our own cognitive hell.
These questions constantly plague our minds when we like someone. And, nowadays, liking someone contains more than one dimension. Liking someone doesn’t only consist of face-to-face interactions, but it also includes the elusive world that is social media: Facebook, Snap Chat, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Where to start…?
Richard Williams—known by his stage name, Prince EA—is an American rapper and activist who starred in the current viral video, “Can We Auto-Correct Humanity?” in which he makes several valid points about how iPhones, iPods, and iPads have made us “lose touch” with each other. Instead of taking control of the technology available to us, we have allowed it to take control of us. The amount of likes we get on an Instagram picture becomes our means of measuring self-worth. Whether someone texts us back or not determines the way we feel about ourselves. We allow insignificant messages and ultimately worthless double-taps to determine our importance and, consequently, the plausibility of a relationship and intimacy. While we all potentially question these socially accepted attitudes, we simultaneously “[conform] to this accepted form of digital insanity” and remain slaves to our iPhones.
iPhones may be helping bring people closer together, but they are also creating an obstacle to relationships and intimacy. Research shows that the more we engage with people online, the less engaged we become with people in real life, which, ironically, makes us lonelier. This same finding is applicable to romantic relationships: Russell Clayton, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri, found that “Twitter use can cause a burnout effect in romantic relationships” because “when a couple is spending all their time on social media, they might not be spending as much time with one another.” Clayton extends his findings to the use of Facebook, Instagram, and iMessage, as well. He also acknowledges that while couples’ time together may not be the problem, posting about their relationships on social media might be. In posting about relationship issues on social media, a relationship that is supposed to be solely between two people becomes a public matter. However, mediated relationships, through online messaging and other forms of social media, are safer and more convenient to many and thus have overshadowed face-to-face relationships. Real laughter has been replaced by LOLs and LMAOs.
According to writer and historian Cody C. Delistraty, Japan is the most Twitter-using country in the world. It’s no coincidence that Japan has also become one of the loneliest countries in the world—if “loneliness” is equated with “being single”—where, according to Delistraty, 61 percent of unmarried men and 49 percent of unmarried women from ages 18 to 34 were not in any sort of romantic relationship—a 10 percent increase from just 10 years ago.
It has been seven years since Apple brought the smartphone to a mass consumer market, and we are finally starting to see the impact it has on relationships and intimacy. Maybe smartphones and social media are the future, but if we want to protect relationships and intimacy and allow them to have a future, we must take control of all this technology and stop it from taking control of us.