The introduction of mobile phones coupled with internet made for a huge leap in communication, making people connect with each other easier than ever. Under a mist of noise and over-stimulation of our, let’s face it, limited attention span, technology has also taken its toll. We’ve all noticed it, but let’s not be hypocritical about it either. How many times did you catch yourself being absorbed in your smarphone held under the dinner table, to the detriment of your company. Ask anyone who knows a thing or two about emotional intelligence and how relationships work and he’ll tell you the absolute pillar is this: presence. Alright, so we’ve settled technology, for good or worse, interferes with our lives, so why do we need a study to tell us this? Maybe because we need a wake-up call from time to time.

Are you present?

Technology appears to negatively relate to relationship and personal well-being. Image: Clinton Power

Technology appears to negatively relate to relationship and personal well-being. Image: Clinton Power

Brandon T. McDaniel, a doctoral candidate in human development and family studies at Penn State, decided to look at a particular segment of technology vs relationships: the romantic ones. He uses the term  “technoference” to describe the everyday intrusions and interruptions in couple interactions, and embarked in a study that aimed to survey the  frequency of technoference. Most importantly, McDaniel wanted to know how this relates to  women’s personal and relational well-being. Oddly enough, the premise seems to be that only women are affected by technology interfering with their love life. Sure, guys are known for playing video games and surfing the web in a trance-like manner, but they’re not alone. I’ll just have to get over it, I guess.

“In recent years, studies have been looking at the ways in which media use may develop into problematic or addictive use for some individuals and how this may negatively influence relationships, but we were interested in thinking more broadly about the subject, expanding it to look at all everyday interruptions that may occur due to technology devices such as cell phones, smartphones, tablets, TVs and computers,” said McDaniel.

McDaniel asked 143  married/cohabiting women to complete an online questionnaire designed to gauge their perception of whether or not technology devices such as computers, cell or smartphones, or television frequently interrupted leisure time, conversations and mealtimes with their partners.

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“It is clear that interruptions would likely be more frequent in a relationship where one or both partners have developed addiction-like tendencies for checking their devices or playing games, but even normal everyday use of technology can potentially cause interruptions — many times completely unintentionally,” said McDaniel.

Women who rated frequent episodes of technology interfering with their relationship, also reported lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction.

“It’s a wake-up call to me because I realized I’m doing this too,” said Coyne, associate professor of family life at BYU. “That’s insane to say that as a professional who researches this, but we can let these devices overrule our entire lives if we allow it.”

I think it should serve as a wake-up call for everyone, since we’re all guilty of doing it in some respects. Yes, women included, although the study itself is biased.

McDaniel also built a model of technoference that predicted conflict over technology use, which then predicted relationship satisfaction, which finally predicted depression and life satisfaction.

“As with any correlational research, we cannot assume causation,” said McDaniel. “It is likely that the relationship between technoference and well-being is bidirectional. However, we would still hypothesize that when partners experience what they perceive to be an interruption due to technology, their views of the relationship are likely to suffer, especially if these interruptions are frequent.”

Can we blame technology for our failed relationships, though? It’s a tricky question. It’s nice and easy to have an escape goat, but maybe there’s more to it. The author puts it better than I can.

“We should all stop to think about whether our own daily technology use might be frustrating at times to our family members. Couples should talk about this and set some mutually agreed upon rules. It may be helpful to block out times of the day when they will turn their devices off and just focus on one another,” McDaniel said

Findings were published in the online journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.