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Is the Digital Age the Downfall of Intimacy?

DT Washington Dating, Intimacy Leave a Comment

“As long as you have a Cell Phone you’re never alone.” ― Stanley Victor Paskavich

Every time I turn around, someone is complaining that Millennials can’t connect. “Their noses are stuck in their phones. They can’t hold regular conversations. They don’t develop deep and meaningful relationships.” Digital technology is getting the blame, but I think something else is the real culprit …


The age-old inevitability of change.


Do you really think an entire generation of people are simply missing out on a core human need: belonging and connection? I have two Millennial-age sons, and while they are smartphone users, they are also very capable of connection. It simply looks different than, say, when I was a twenty-something.


Millennials, Z-ers, smart phones, social media and other digital platforms are changing the intimacy game and fulfilling their basic human needs for connection in nontraditional ways. Sure, there may be some loss of face-to-face social skills, but ask yourself: in today’s remote-workplace, long-distance-dating, virtual-community, email-therapy world, are in-person communication skills as important as they once were?


It’s simple supply and demand. The demand for in-person social skills is declining, and therefore, so are the skills. Right or wrong, this is a fact and it’s only about to get “worse.”


Don’t get me wrong … I have empathy for older generations who worry we’re losing something meaningful. It’s hard to lose things you value. But the older generation is not alone in their frustration and worry. Just look at every generation before. As people age they become less and less comfortable with change. And that’s all that’s a stake here: a change.


Intimacy and human connection will never go away completely. But it will look different as time goes on. WIth digital communication, we are adding something exciting to a system that was no longer able to cover all the communication needs we have as a society.


So, here’s my recommendation to the older generation: grieve. Yup! Grieve the loss of this (less-than-whole) system you valued. Once you’re done, take a look at what we’re gaining from this more-connected-than-ever digital age — cause it’s actually a lot. Here are a few examples:


The Written Word.
Ok, practically no one is writing a formal letter in long-hand cursive, but imagine the amount of written correspondence taking place via social media, texting, email, etc. It’s preserving the importance of the written word!


Yes, it’s also changing the state of our language (hello, hashtags, acronyms for days, and rapid slang adoption/circulation), but if we take a second to reminisce, you’ll remember language has been evolving and adapting since … well, the dawn of formal language. After all, when was the last time thou said hast or whilst?


We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands.
Sure, Millennials make fewer voice calls, but they do things other generations don’t. Want to connect with a stranger in Bangladesh, for example? Yeah, they do that. They’re forming online groups based on shared interests, from travel to medical conditions, to offer friendship, support and camaraderie. And because the groups are based on interest instead of location, they include a broader cross-section of people. In other words, social media is providing platforms to connect, in a real way, with people unlike ourselves. It’s making the world smaller, more connected, and eventually, more tolerant.


Romance is Still Not Dead.
Believe it or not, texting and social media can provide a platform for intimacy. Unlike phone calls, you don’t have to set aside time for texting. As long as your phone has power and reception, and you’re not driving, you can usually find time to quickly send a sweet message, schedule a date and connect on a daily basis. With time, we may find frequent and real-time sharing of our life trumps lengthy hour-long conversations in terms of connection.


Clearing the Airwaves.
Texting and email also provide a solid platform for addressing conflict. Writing down your feelings is not always a great substitution for face-to-face or voice-to-voice conflict resolution since people often misinterpret tone, but if you are finally able to say things that you wouldn’t otherwise, writing provides a valid step in the right direction.


Your Inbox is the new Therapy Couch.
We’ve also seen an influx of new digital therapy and coaching platforms. In fact, I’ve put my money where my mouth is and launched a new email coaching service. I was initially reluctant to do email coaching, thinking it could never be as effective as in-person therapy or coaching. After using email for over three years now, however, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find it extremely effective in helping clients cope with their emotional and relationship problems. Will email coaching take the place of in-person therapy? No. But it’s a wonderful, additional arrow in our quiver. Being able to get the help you need, anytime and anywhere, is the future of mental health services and we’re super excited to provide our clients with this in-the-moment support.


These are just a few ways intimacy is thriving in the digital technology age. There are many more.


And while there are so many pros, I will throw in one caveat: if your partner or loved one asks for more personal connection — without the phone — the above defense of technology is not your excuse to keep-on-keeping-on. Part of true intimacy is hearing your loved ones’ needs and accommodating them as much as you can. This might mean compromising by only texting after dinner and the kids have gone to bed.


To your emotional health,
Dr. Dabney

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