One of the pitfalls of online dating is it’s too easy to forget that the profiles we look at and discard without a moment’s thought are representations of actual human beings. Who cares about that? We’re eager to search though our match results or just skip to the part where were begin to message back and forth.* I initially typed “communicate” here, but it seems inaccurate given what often actually happens.
What I mean by that is, when you speak with someone face-to-face, you don’t just hear what they say, you hear their tone of voice and the inflection with which they speak. You see their body language. You can observe how comfortable they are, whether they’re being sarcastic or genuine, and if they found that questionable joke you made funny, or if they’re just politely chuckling so you’re not embarrassed (…please tell me I’m not alone here).
When you text or message someone via an app, you’re not interacting with them on a human level. You don’t get their body language and tone, which we’re genetically programmed to pick up on, no matter ho overt or subtle. Sure, they’re sending you words and emojis and whatever else. However, what you’re actually interacting with is your device.
What you’re connecting with and forming an attachment to is your phone or your computer.
Despite an actual person being on the other end of the conversation, by interfacing with a device while engaging in courtship behaviors, you’re attachment subconsciously transfers from that person to your device because it’s your device you’re looking at, engaging with, and deriving pleasure from. The person on the other end is secondary to that.
This connection to our devices, specifically to our phones, damages our ability to connect with other human beings in what I’ve heard referred to as “meat space.” In other words, the real world in which we physically exist with our meaty bodies.
Ok, maybe I crowbarred the term “meat space” in here, but I did so because it always makes me chuckle. Sue me.
Dr. Susan Krauss Whitborne writes that we become attached to our phones much like we do with a transitional item such as a teddy bear. We grow so attached to our phones that we become stressed and anxious when we’re separated from them. This attachment begins to supersede our other relationships. Dr. Whitbourne further states, “If you’ve become unable to get through your day without holding your phone and frequently checking your social networks, it may be time to question whether you can find fulfillment in your connections with others in a real rather than virtual space.”
But why? What is it about our phones that enrapture us so, especially when it comes to dating?
Professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, Jacob J. Hamman theorizes, “When we hold our phones, it reminds us of moments of intimacy — whether from our childhood or from our adult life. The brain chemical dopamine and love hormone oxytocin, which play a role in the addiction ‘high,’ kick in. These chemicals also create a sense of belonging and attachment.”
Biologically speaking, the sense of belonging and attachment Professor Hamman mentions is meant to bond us with other people. After all, human beings are highly social animals. It’s why we naturally seek each other’s company and companionship. It’s why we form communities. It’s why we don’t do well when isolated.
The introduction of the smartphone began a progression in which we’ve began transferring that attachment from other humans to an electronic device.
Sure, we’re connected to each other via text, email, and social media, but are we forming genuine human connections?
I would argue that, no, we’re not.
In my friend Emily’s case, her “serious relationship” with the guy she’d been texting was, in all likelihood, a serious relationship with her phone. In fact, when I asked her how her relationship was going, she complained that things didn’t feel the same when they’d hung out in person. She reported a sense of awkwardness and discomfort.
Their “serious relationship” ended shortly afterward.
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