Talking Together in the Age of Technology

A recent New York Times article (“Quality Time, Redefined”) takes a close look at what is happening inside the American living room during this age of rampant technological development. As the article puts it: “One family. One room. Four screens. Four realities, basically.” Given the proliferation and accessibility of communication devices (the laptop, smart phone, and now the iPad), scenes like the one depicted in the article are found in homes everywhere. People are gathered together, but they’re communicating – sometimes on a number of devices at once – with others. As the article’s author puts it: “…families sharing a common space, but plugged into entirely separate planes of existence through technology.”

I’ve witnessed such a scene myself. A group of college-age kids on spring break, sitting in a living room, all on smart phones, laptops and Facebook, texting… It seemed to me that at times they were texting each other.

The article points out that there are differing opinions as to the effect of these technological advancements. Some see this as an alienating force: people spending time together but locked into different realities and not communicating with one another. After all, while technology has transformed the American family before with the advent of television (before that the radio), at least when watching their favorite TV program or movie, people can talk with one another or talk about their shared experience afterwards.

Others see this growing phenomenon as not such a dangerous or alienating experience. Families and couples need some individual space, some separation, in order to enhance the communal experience.

Scenes like the one depicted in the article get me thinking about the psychotherapeutic experience. And while I like to think of myself as somewhat current on technology, I may be old-fashioned in valuing and welcoming the face-to-face, direct communication I have with my clients. In this regard, we are plugged into the same reality: the client’s. It’s my job to enter that reality and help the client explore it. And while I know that technology is slowing entering into the profession – there are options now about video conferencing – there is something very reassuring to me that the heart of psychotherapy remains two people (sometimes more) sitting and talking together.

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