As a couples therapist in San Francisco I work with many people who are the products of the information age, and many of them ask me for simple tips for creating an environment that balances the technology and work in their lives. I often propose some lifestyle tweaks and rituals which I will outline in detail:
- Feng Shui your love life. Get your computer out of your living room, and especially out of your bedroom. Put the computers in an enclosed office space. If this is not possible, put up a Japanese screen or something else that will compartmentalize your work and computer area. Consider having your living room be a media free zone, without a computer or a television.
- Turn your phone ringer off and screen down during dinner. Better yet, get it completely out of sight.
- Create blackout time from your phone and your computer. Start with a little time in the morning, and in the evening and create more blackout time on the weekends.
- Buy an old-school alarm clock and put it next to your bed. Leave your phone charging in a different room so your last interaction and first interaction of each day is with your partner.
- Let your work colleagues know that you don’t check your email or messages after a certain time each day...but that you will get back to them first thing in the morning.
- If you are a gamer, set parameters for how much time you will play when you come home at night and make absolutely sure that you are spending more un-interupted time with your partner than you are with the game.
- Practice leaving your phone at home or in the car a few times each day.
- Consider reading a book rather than a tablet.
- Plan vacations in places that have no wireless or cell service.
- Keep your ringer off! Did I already say that?
What's informing all this? Let me explain.
As a couples counselor in the nexus of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, I have the unique opportunity to work with couples who are creating the very technology that allows me to write this blog post and seconds later transmit it to countless participants of the social network. As would be expected, there are some imbalances in relationship that manifest. The people I work with are the perfect study group for this exploration because they are the creators, but are also the biggest consumers, of technology.
I will not suggest that we abandon social networking...but I am suggesting that lack of technology before the internet age made for more depth of contact with people by the virtue of less distraction. In the age of the social network, the face of technology has countless ways of intruding upon your relationship. A Tweet, a text, a new Facebook post, email, Instagram, Gchat, Google+, a new Yelp review just to name a few faces of social tech. The iPhone is the Trojan Horse that the social technology sneaks in with. I understand, it looks like a perfectly sexy little gift from Apple, but it is really a giant wooden horse filled with Greeks, waiting for the perfect moment to lay siege on your opportunity to be intimate with your partner.
These days people are more reachable through any variety of means for cursory interactions. It is these continuous cursory interactions that can compromise your time with your partner, your family or close friends. And, since the advent of social media, work and social have become more intertwined. What was formerly a discussion about work-life balance has become a much more complex discussion about work/technology-life balance. The conversation now is a much bigger negotiation about Instagramming a photo of a meal, which lead to checking a text message from a work colleague about something major that a client wrote on their Facebook Page about a negative Tweet from a competitor that went out to thousands of people 5 minutes ago. Do you see how your phone becomes a Trojan Horse for your relationship? As the functionality of phones have increased there are now more reasons to interact with the device, which can lead to the slippery slope mentioned above. I paused for a moment to consider how much I rely on my phone...it is my camera, my alarm clock, source for music, my texting device, my blogging device, my primary calendar, email source, my navigation and my intel on what the surf looks like. And each one of these applications leads to me interacting with another application...this thing is indispensable to me, see, a Trojan Horse!!!
And it doesn’t stop with your phone. In urban areas especially, people have their computer desk right in their living room. This makes it almost impossible to sit on the couch with someone without being distracted by the work station. That iPad and Mac Air sitting on your desk are highly seductive machines beckoning like sirens from the social matrix. One little check of a beep or a ping, turns into 40 minutes of distraction from your girlfriend or boyfriend or whoever you’re trying to have real facetime with. Furthermore, people who work from home (computer programmers in particular) have a difficult time not being sucked in by lingering work projects throughout the night. In this manor, work continues to steal from your sex life, simply because if you are on the computer, you are not giving your lady a foot rub.
Online gaming is another kryptonite particularly for younger couples. I hear this becoming a bigger and bigger issue as online games become more complex and appealing to adults. People are coming home from work and getting on the computer to play games instead of engaging one another about their day. Gaming is a particularly difficult issue for couples because it seems to have a more addictive grasp on people who play them. For anyone who has ever become engrossed in a game, you know the time-warp effect they can have. What seems like 15 minutes has actually been two hours and the next thing you know it’s time to brush teeth and get in bed. Gaming is having a tremendous impact on how often couples have sex, how much they communicate and how much sleep they get at night.
As I mentioned before, I am no Luddite and many of the issues I am citing I have to continually work on in my own relationship. Nor am I a person who believes that because of Facebook we are no longer having meaningful contact and deeper relationships. However, it may be that we are unconsciously trading off some meaningful contact with those we care for most for more cursory engagement. The good news is, and this gives me great cause for optimism, is that from what I am seeing, sex and love are still bigger than Facebook, we just need to keep it that way.