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I have been concerned of late about how much difficulty high school and college students seem to be having with formation of close personal relationships. I fear for them because these years are when students experiment with the kind of adults they will become. Constant interruptions from cell phone calls, texts and emails, not to mention the lure of using electronic devices to replace face-to-face communication, are increasingly rampant phenomenon throughout our society and especially in high schools and on college campuses. As a psychologist who specializes in helping couples to build strong marriages
, I fear that teenager and young adults' relationship-building difficulties bode ill for our nation's future families.
I recently sent a particularly worrisome PT blogpost about depression on college campuses to an Ivy League college student friend of my mine. His response, which was both enlightening and frightening to me, prompted me to ask his permission to post his thoughts on my blog. Thanks B.C.!
Observations About Technology's Impacts on College Life
by B. Connor
The specific changes that students face are the same challenges that society currently is facing. College students just experience those changes more intensely, and maybe ahead of, the society as a whole, especially vis a vis technology. Technology has changed countless aspects of about how colleges are run, what we study, how we study, and especially how we connect, or don't connect, with each other.
For example, consider how cell-phone and internet use (Facebook) are replacing our modes of social connection. Instead of getting together to go over photos, we look at them over our computers. At parties EVERYONE has a cell phone out, texting other people. Ironically, and sort of comically, that's one reason why parties are no fun.
Also, music volume levels are absolutely ridiculous! It is insane how loudly my generation listens to music. It's so loud that you have to scream in other people's ears to talk to them. (Delete: And) I think it's worse than the 60s. The cheap personal stereos provided by, again, advances in technology, are unbelievably powerful.
Music is a double-edged sword of social isolation. If you're listening to it in a social environment, the volume prohibits social interaction other than sexual dancing (which may be why rape is so high on college campuses). At the same time, with the invention of iPods, you see everyone walking around with their headphones in, listening to their own personal music. These people look visibly depressed. They look terribly unhappy, and with so little real friendship interactions, why shouldn't they be?
Music used to be a social activity. In fact I'm currently reading a book on anthropological evolution which says that music evolved as a means to bring people together.
Regarding text messages, the same book says that language evolved as a more efficient form to exchange information in comparison to touch-based grooming that apes, our ancestors, practice.
Text messages, Facebook, even talking over the phone are heralded as revolutionary ways for us to stay closer to each other but the opposite proves to be the case: long distance relationships never work out. We need to touch each other.
College students probably use technology more than anyone. I am in front of a computer screen eight hours every day.
I had two fascinating conversations related to this subject with a dean at my university. In both conversations, I felt like a therapist. In the first, he was on the verge of tears. In the second, he needed sleep badly. His complaint is that there is no end to a Dean's work. He often sees other Deans responding to emails at 2:00 AM. He said he responds to 100 emails A DAY.
The Dean said that in meetings amongst the Deans (the Deans for crying out loud), individual deans will take the moment to respond to emails if they don't think what the other Dean has to say is important. Deans at an Ivy League school deliberately ignoring each other - it's hilarious and sad at the same time.
The same constant interruption of conversations happens with students. It's totally acceptable to take out your cell phone during a conversation with someone and start texting someone else. People are looking at their Facebook in small, discussion-based classes. They can distract themselves in infinite ways on the internet.
While I'm writing now to you I've just noticed that my email program capitalizes Facebook for me. Wow. That seems like a sign for me to conclude.
[As this message has ended, so it is that cell phones and the internet end relationships......]
Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a Denver clinical psychologist, has authored mutliple books on relationship skills. Her current project is an onoine relationship skill-building program, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com.