Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Technoference: How Technology Impacts Your Relationships

Have you ever sat down to dinner with your partner or spouse and his/her phone keeps beeping for a text message or other notification?

Have you ever been trying to talk to your partner/spouse and he/she can't seem to keep his/her eyes off the phone?

If these scenarios have ever happened to you, you are probably not alone. As technology has expanded into almost every part of our lives, it has begun to affect our personal relationships as well. New research into this topic is just beginning, but it is telling us what we were probably already feeling---how our loved ones interact with technology may influence our relationships and feelings.

This scenario describes what researchers call "technoference." This term includes any interruption due to technology in personal relationships (couples in this case). Technoference can occur in the context of various forms of technology---cellphones, smartphones, TV, computers, or tablets.

Of course, we know that technology does not always play a negative role in relationships. Many couples call or text one another during the day to stay "connected" to each other. Others may use technology to video chat across long distances when one person is traveling. On the other end of the spectrum, some individuals are so hooked on their technological devices that it has become an outright addiction. What this new study considers is the more typical situation in which technology sometimes interrupts personal relationships, but not to the level of addiction.

Let's take a look at this new study to understand how technoference may influence personal relationships and feelings. The study examines a multi-stage theory of technoference.
  • The authors hypothesize that greater levels of technoference in a romantic relationship will be associated with more conflict over technology within the relationship.
  • This conflict over technology, they believe, will predict less happiness in the relationship (i.e., lower relationship quality)
  • This unhappiness in the relationship will influence lower feelings of life satisfaction and higher levels of depressive symptoms

When you think this through, it all makes a lot of sense. If technology is interfering with your relationship, then you are probably having more conflict which makes you overall less happy and satisfied with life.

Before moving on to the major results of the study, here are a few striking statistics:

- around 70% of individuals in the study said that technology (e.g., cellphone, TV, computer) interfered with their relationship at least sometimes 

- 62% of couples said that technology interfered with their couple leisure time at least once a day

Ok, so it is clear that technoference is not a rare occurrence.

Overall, the results showed substantial support for the idea that technoference is related to unhappy outcomes. Individuals who reported more technoference were less satisfied with their relationships and were more likely to show depressive symptoms and overall lower life satisfaction.

Although we cannot presume too much from one study, this work does shed light on the role of technoference in our everyday lives. It seems those brief interruptions due to technology may end up having a substantial impact on our personal well-being.

This study focused on adult relationships, but you can see how some of the same issues could affect parent-child relationships. Something to ponder as we interact with our kids on a daily basis.  I'm sure research in this area is not far away in the future.

ResearchBlogging.orgMcDaniel, B., & Coyne, S. (2014). “Technoference”: The Interference of Technology in Couple Relationships and Implications for Women’s Personal and Relational Well-Being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture DOI: 10.1037/ppm0000065
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