Research Presentation: Hailey Watkins

Man and Wife (and iPhone): Meaningfulness and Sincerity in Technology-Infused Relationships

How often do you see couples in restaurants enjoying a fine meal accompanied not only by their significant other, but also their significant other’s iPhone? During the course of the last few weeks I have been actively observing relationships that seem to center around the use of technology—despite being unclear whether for the better or the worse. Based on my research and observations I will argue that the extensive use of technologies, specifically of iPhones and other Smartphones, leads to the lessening of sincerity and meaningfulness in communication between couples in relationships. I want to use this statement to answer the question—why does the act of communicating through modern technological devices as opposed to “old fashioned” methods, lead to the perceived insincerity of the message?

Keywords

  • Sincerity
  • Communication
  • Meaningfulness
  • Relationships

Starting Relationships

The sensation of beginning a new relationship with someone is always exciting. Everyone, young and old, knows the feeling well. The differences between the generations are the methods of expressing these feelings to another, and the way that technology-driven communication now plays a part. After talking to a group of ten college students about starting a new relationship at this point in their life, I received the exact same answer from each student about the first step in any meeting—exchanging numbers. I decided to ask a question that delves deeper into the matter of meeting new people for the first time, and the true sincerity of a connection.

I created a survey about relationships and technology and polled a total of 15 people. The questions in the poll dealt with how people would feel or react in certain situations relating to the sincerity of technological communication. I asked one question in particular in order to look into the matter of meeting someone new for the first time: “How often have you had a crush on someone and ‘stalked’ them online before ever actually meeting them in person?” From this question, 29% of people answered ‘once or twice,’ 36% answered ‘more than a few times,’ 21% answered ‘all the time,’ and14% answered ‘never.’ I found these statistics particularly interesting because to me, the idea of secretly stalking someone seems to take away a great deal of the sincerity of the relationship. Is it really a first meeting if you later found out that the other had already seen photos and information about you, without your knowledge? In Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together she discusses “stalking” with high school students familiar with the practice. One student, Chris, states, “I find myself choosing some girl I like and following the trail of her tagged pictures. You can see who she hangs out with. Is she popular? Is there a chance she has a boyfriend? I start to do it in a sort of random way, and then, all of a sudden, a couple of hours have passed. I’m stalking” (Turkle, 2011).

Take a look at Urban Dictionary’s definitions of “Facebook stalking.”
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=facebook%20stalking

Another situation that seems to take away the meaningfulness of a first meeting involves acquiring someone’s number before ever actually meeting him or her. In the first group of students that I talked to, almost half admitted to asking a friend to “match-make” by finding out a desired person’s number and delivering it to the person with the crush. In this case, a person is obtaining someone else’s number, again, without having met them first. In this situation, I have a hard time believing the sincerity of a message that comes from someone I have never even met.

You, Me, and Our iPhones

The most prevalent issue I noticed during my weeks of observing technologically-infused couples concerns iPhone (or other Smartphone) use at dinner or on dates. I focused on this question in my survey in order to find out if this act—sharing dinner with a partner while also dividing attention between other tasks—indicates as insincere of a date as I originally assumed. The survey that I conducted was comprised by people mostly between the ages of 15 and 25, where I gathered the following opinions. When asked how often the individual will actively be on his or her iPhone during a date, overwhelmingly, 94% of people answered either ‘once in a while’ or ‘if a particular situation occurs,’ while only 7% answered ‘never.’ Interestingly though, when asked how many would find it rude if their partner used an iPhone during a date, 53% answered ‘yes,’ 13% answered ‘no,’ and 33% said ‘it depends on the situation.’ I then asked how many people leave their iPhone on the table during dinner—even if they don’t plan on using it. For this question, 40% said ‘yes’ and 60% said ‘no,’ and when asked if they would think it rude that their partner placed their iPhone on the table, again, 40% said ‘yes’ and 60% said ‘no.’

Take a listen to this NPR All Things Considered story—Tiptoeing with Tech: Devices and Relationships, by Art Silverman.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120959235

In this NPR story I learned a very important lesson about how people perceive the sincerity of having dinner with a date while also being on an iPhone—age matters. The results of my survey showed that among young people, most don’t see the issue of technology-infused dates as that bad of a thing, and many even admit to committing the act themselves. Tiptoeing with Tech, however, presents another side to the story—a viewpoint of an older generation. 31-year-old Beth Hughes seemed to think that you shouldn’t be able to see or hear a phone on a date. Hughes even referred to her date’s Blackberry as “paraphernalia,” which is defined as: equipment, apparatus, or furnishing used in or necessary for a particular activity (Silverman, 2009). By using this term to describe a cell phone, Hughes quickly identifies herself as someone who categorizes cell phones and maybe other technologies as objects only to facilitate a task—not as a companion in life as many others might do.

A large argument that Sherry Turkle addresses in her book deals with sincerity between children and parents who are immersed heavily in technology. Many modern-day parents find themselves drawn fully into time-consuming jobs—jobs that require them to be “on call” at all times of the day. In these situations, parents are often left with little to no time to spend with their children uninterrupted by iPhones. Turkle describes parents who take their children to the park and multitask pushing a child on a swing set with one hand and answering emails or texting with the other. Turkle also talks about a young girl who complains that her mother picks her up from school and doesn’t even look away from her iPhone long enough to make eye contact (Sherry, 2011). These correlate with Brendan Greeley’s thoughts from the NPR story. Greeley, a married father recognizes that you can’t remain sincere while splitting loyalties by stating, “You're either cheating on work, or you're cheating on your spouse, or you're cheating on home, or you're cheating on your kids” (Silverman, 2009).

Breaking-Up Through Tech

Perhaps the most insincere act regarding relationships and technology are break-ups. Ending a relationship can be mutual or one-sided, can be emotional or realized and understood. Either way, we can almost all agree that it is a sensitive issue. During my survey, I asked two questions regarding breakups: have you ever broken up with someone via text message or phone call, and have you ever been broken up with via text message or phone call. To me, the answers were obvious. I’ve always thought that a break-up required two people sitting down and talking about the outcome in person. From my research, I learned that this isn’t necessarily the case. My results showed that 47% of people had broken up with someone through technology, and 40% had been broken up with through technology. I investigated further and found a trend that these digital breakups are happening all over the world. A survey by moneysupermarket.com showed that 15% of 2,194 people surveyed had been dumped via text message or email (Holden, 2007). According to Anastasia Goodstein, editor of Ypulse, youths are breaking up over text because it’s where they interact most comfortably. Goodstein states, “They’re using technology to handle difficult situations or interactions that probably should be done face to face. That’s how they are communicating with each other. You’re going to see it played out in Facebook status. You’re going to see their relationships, like their friendships, played out through these different tools they are using to stay connected to each other 24-7” (Taylor, 2009). Another possible cause of so many technology-fueled breakups might come from what teens are seeing celebrities do in the media. Popular examples include singer Britney Spears informing ex-husband Kevin Federline that she wanted a divorce through a text message while she was on tour, or singer Carrie Underwood dumping actor boyfriend Chase Crawford via text message (Taylor, 2009).

Check out this article concerning singer Taylor Swift’s phone breakup with singer Joe Jonas.
http://www.justjared.com/2008/11/06/joe-jonas-taylor-swift-phone-call-dump/

“I’m Sorry” Through Text

Does it count? Throughout all my research, this is the one question that’s answer remained surprisingly constant. I’m sorry’s should be delivered in person in order to be meaningful, sincere, and accepted. Through my survey I asked, “Do you feel as though a text message is an acceptable way to send/receive an apology?” A solid 0% answered ‘no,’ 87% answered ‘only if the apology is for something minor,’ and 13% said ‘never, an apology should be in person.’ This wholeheartedly seemed to be the area where people felt most strongly about the sincerity of the message delivered through technology. An article I read about lies and fabrication on wikiHow warned readers to beware of phone and text apologies because they lack realness and sincerity. The article states, “There are absolutely no situations in which an apology is genuine when it is administered via text message. Since you cannot hear someone's voice or see their face with a text message, it is impossible to detect any sliver of sincerity. If a person does not have the motivation to at least call to apologize, chances are high that their contrition is false” (wikiHow, 2012). Sherry Turkle also addresses this topic with a discussion about the difference between a true apology, and a confession through technology. Turkle states, “Technology makes it easy to blur the line between confession and apology, easy to lose sight of what an apology is, not only because online spaces offer themselves as ‘cheap’ alternatives to confronting other people but because we may come to the challenge of an apology already feeling disconnected from other people. In that state, we forget that what we do affects others” (Turkle, 2011).

Arguments Pro-Technology Infusion

Despite my arguments explaining the lack of sincerity and meaningfulness that these technological interactions exhibit, there are arguments to the counterpoint. In my survey I asked the question, “Do you feel as though relationships that are heavily technology-infused (for example, a couple that texts more often than talking face-to-face) are less sincere/meaningful than the alternative?” I was expecting that most of the answers would say yes, agreeing that relationships should be focused on in-person communication and technological communication should be kept to a minimum—but I wasn’t exactly correct in my prediction. It turns out that 0% of people said ‘yes,’ while 60% said ‘a mixture of both seems to work best,’ and 20% said ‘no, a couple should do anything they can to communicate.’ I was especially pleased with the 13% who offered a written answer as another option, and explained how technology is an extremely helpful aid to couples in long-distance relationships.

Although I gathered this new research, I still can’t help feeling that even though technology might help in increasing communication in a relationship (especially in long-distance situations) it is still unable to enhance sincerity or meaningfulness, but instead might even deter it. When a couple isn’t able to see each other every day but must instead rely on technological communication, the words will likely become less and less meaningful the more often they are typed out to each other, instead of being spoken aloud.

Works Cited

"Facebook stalking". Urban Dictionary. 2005. 22 Oct 2012. <
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=facebook%20stalking >

Holden, Michael. "Lovers turn to text message to say it's over". Reuters. Thomson
Reuters. 2007. 12 Oct 2012. < http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/12/14/us-brita in-text-idUSL1323642420071214 >

"How to Spot False Contrition". WikiHow. WikiHow. 2012. Article. 15 Oct 2012. <
http://www.wikihow.com/Spot-False-Contrition >

Kranjec, Stefanie. ""Technology overload" can ruin relationships: expert".
Reuters. Thomson Reuters. 2008. 12 Oct 2012. < http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/01/23/us-gadge
ts-idUSN2221996620080123 >

Silverman, Art. Tiptoeing with Tech: Devices and Relationships. NPR. 2009. Radio.
12 Oct 2012. < http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?story Id=120959235 >

Taylor, Marisa. "Its Ovr: Breaking Up by Text Message". The Wall Street Journal.
(2009): Article. 1 Oct 2012. < http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/03/17/its-ovr-bre aking-up-by-text-message/ >

"Taylor Swift: Joe Jonas Dumped Me Over 27-Second Phone Call". Celebuzz. Just
Jared. Inc. 2008. Article. 22 Oct 2012. < http://www.justjared.com/2008/11/06/joe-jonas-tayl or-swift-phone-
call-dump/>

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together. New York, NY: Basic Books. 2011.

Watkins, Hailey. “Technology and Relationships.” Survey. Survey.vt.edu. Virginia
Tech, 2012. Web. 20 Oct 2012.