We are social animals by nature, but the ways we foster relationships with the people around us have changed drastically over the years. At one point, most adults lived within an hour or two of the place they grew up and socialized with people they’d known since they were children. Today, however, we’re a globalized society that’s constantly on the move. Fortunately, we can use our favorite tech gadgets and social media sites to stay connected to the people we care about.
What Does the Research Say About Technology and Our Relationships?
“All data I’ve seen say that people who use social media are either also more social offline; or that they have benefited from social media to keep in touch with people they otherwise could not; or that many people find fellows, peers and like-minded individuals they otherwise could not find. In other words, texting, Facebook-status updates, and Twitter conversations are not displacing face-to-face socializing — on average, they are making them stronger. Social media is enhancing human connectivity as people can converse in ways that were once not possible.”
The Pew Research Center has extensively studied the role of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on human relationships. Their findings seem to support Tufekci’s research. For example:
- People who describe themselves as regular social media users are half as likely to be considered socially isolated as average Americans.
- Facebook users are more trusting, politically engaged and have closer relationships than those who do not use the site.
- Facebook revives formerly dormant relationships by allowing people to reconnect with high school classmates, old college roommates, former coworkers and others they had drifted away from over the years.
- Social media is increasingly being used to foster connections across generations. 89% of adults ages 18-29 use social networking sites, 82% of adults ages 30-49, 65% of adults ages 50-64 and 49% of adults over age 65 participate in social networking.
Using Technology to Foster Relationships With Family
With a smartphone or laptop, your family is never more than a few clicks away. Examples of ways you can use technology to foster relationships with your family include:
- If you frequently text, use Snapchat to add playful photos and/or videos to your messages. This helps family members feel like they are a part of your day by giving them a glimpse into the little moments they would ordinarily miss.
- Make a private group on Facebook for extended family to share pictures, videos and updates about their lives. Consider the group an extension of your annual family reunion.
- Use Facebook games such as Words with Friends to recreate the classic family game night experience even when you are physically located thousands of miles apart.
- Have a family movie night by installing Showgoers, a Chrome extension that lets you connect your Netflix player to your friend’s computer for a shared viewing experience.
- Use your favorite photo-sharing service to create an online scrapbook, letting family members order prints of their favorite images as desired. This works especially well for sharing pictures of young children, since parents of little ones tend to be the most prolific photographers.
- Create group Pinterest boards to share recipes, craft ideas and gardening tips with your family members. Challenge everyone to try something new from the board at least once a month and report back to the group on their progress.
- When family members cannot come together for holidays and other special occasions, do a group video chat via Skype. For example, you could have grandparents read their grandchildren “The Night Before Christmas” before you take turns watching everyone open their gifts together.
- Use Skype to “check in” with elderly relatives who are home alone during the day and might be feeling isolated. If you are a parent, let your children share funny stories about what they learned in school or show pictures they have drawn at home.
Making New Friends via Social Networking
It’s no secret that making friends as an adult can be a challenge. As children, school provides a built-in social network. When we grow up, we often have to work a little harder to find friends who share common interests.
The same social networking sites you use to stay in touch with family can be used to make new friends, but Meetup.com is a popular resource to add to your list. This site lets you search for special interest groups in your area or start your own group. The site offers movie-watching groups, book clubs, sports meetups, dinner groups and business networking opportunities. No matter what you’re interested in, you can use the site to find others who share your passion. Members meet online and then schedule events in their area to combine technology with real-world socializing. When you’re out and about, exploring new places and having new experiences, you can stay connected and oriented using your GPS device or app.
Online support groups can also be a useful resource for making friends, especially if you’re looking for people who can relate to specific concerns such as being the parent of a special needs child, a caregiver for an elderly parent or a person living with a chronic illness. Even if you’re not able to schedule time outside the home to socialize with the new friends you meet, these online communities can help you feel less alone as you deal with your unique challenges.
When you’re looking for friends online, remember body language and tone of voice can’t be used to communicate your intentions via social media. This means you need to be careful when using sarcasm to avoid having your audience misinterpret your words. Family members or friends you’ve known for years may be able to tell when you’re joking, but others might misunderstand. Using emojis can help indicate your intentions, but it’s best to get in the habit of saving sarcasm for in-person interactions.
Finding True Love in the Modern Age
For those who are naturally a little more introverted, the idea of going to a crowded nightclub to find a date can seem frightening. Fortunately, online dating provides a much more accessible alternative.
Match.com, one of the top online dating sites, says 40% of single adults in the United States use online dating services. This means your pool of potential mates is larger than you might expect. If you want tips before you take the plunge, here’s some advice:
- Keep it light and upbeat in your profile, while showing off the attributes that make you special. Choose a screenname with positive connotations, such as “Love2Laugh” or “Fun2 HangWith.” Show off your sense of humor with a witty description of what you’re looking for in a relationship. When you include photos, choose snapshots that feature you with close friends or enjoying a favorite activity.
- If there is someone you are interested in, send him or her a personal message instead of a generic email. Reference something in their profile that makes you think they would be a good match. Remember that everyone likes to feel special, so the added effort is sure to make a positive impression.
- Follow up with messages as quickly as you can. If you wait too long to respond, your potential date might think you are not interested. Playing “hard to get” doesn’t work well in a virtual environment.
When you’re already in a relationship, using high-tech tools to keep in touch can be helpful if your significant other must frequently travel on business. You can video chat via Skype, send each other Snapchats and text messages throughout the day or play a favorite online game together. This “relationship maintenance” keeps you connected even when you’re physically apart.
High-Tech Ways to Collaborate With a Group
One area where modern technology excels is group collaboration. Smartphones, online calendars and cloud-based document-sharing services make it a snap to keep everyone on the same page regardless of the size or scope of your project.
To see how technology can make relationships with your friends a bit easier, think about the party-planning process. A decade or two ago, planning a birthday party for a mutual friend would be a huge undertaking. You would need to make multiple phone calls to decide your meal, guest list, location, decorations and entertainment options. Today, however, you can easily group text your friends to get instant feedback on every aspect of the party-planning process. Then you can create a shared document to make sure everyone knows who is responsible for which aspects of the party. You can even send payments electronically to easily share expenses!
In a work environment, cloud-based services like Google Docs make collaboration easy by letting multiple users simultaneously view and edit files. This means you can get feedback on an important sales presentation from colleagues in New York and San Francisco while you’re in Chicago. With distance taken out of the equation, you can be confident expert advice is just a click away. Using technology to collaborate lets you excel in your career no matter where you’re currently living.
If you’re a working parent in need of a flexible schedule, online collaboration tools can be used to allow you to telecommute a day or two per week. Employers are becoming increasingly open to this type of arrangement, which can free up some of your time by eliminating your commute and letting you work at home without the distraction of office chitchat. Starting your own virtual consulting business could also be an option to consider. A virtual consulting business works particularly well if you have professional skills in areas that don’t require regular face-to-face contact, such as software developing, accounting or writing.
Conflict is a part of any relationship. Since no two people are exactly alike, it’s impossible for them to agree 100% of the time. However, technology can often be helpful in managing conflicts while preserving your relationship. The Pew Research Center reports that 9% of their survey respondents said they had successfully resolved an argument with their partner online or via text message after attempts to settle the issue in person had failed. Although this study specially examined romantic interactions, it’s not unreasonable to assume the same concepts would apply to other relationships.
The benefits of using text, email or online chat to resolve an argument include:
- For people who are naturally introverted, speaking their mind in a face-to-face conversation can be frightening. Saying how they feel in writing is less intimidating. The act of typing out your thoughts in a text, email or long chat message gives you time to process your emotions. This makes you less likely to blurt out something hurtful in the heat of the moment.
- When you are not in the same room, you can’t angrily interrupt each other. This makes it easier for each person to say what he or she needs to say.
- One person’s hostile body language or raised voice can’t inflame the situation. Communicating in writing forces you to be more objective.
Obviously, technological advances have given us medications to manage chronic diseases, better diagnostic laboratory tests and improved surgical procedures. However, modern technology has also enhanced our health and well-being in subtler ways. One of these is the growing use of telehealth services to provide a more comprehensive patient care experience.
The term telehealth refers to the delivery of health services and information via telecommunication technologies. Telehealth comes in many different forms and continues to evolve as health care providers and patients alike become more interested in using technology to manage their medical care. For example, electronic consultation lets a patient’s primary care provider seek input from a specialist regarding the patient’s treatment without requiring a face-to-face visit with extensive travel time. Remote patient monitoring, another popular telemedicine modality, lets patients remain at home where they are more comfortable while specialized equipment collects and stores data such as blood sugar levels for diabetics or blood pressure readings for cardiac patients.
From a mental health standpoint, telepsychiatry is improving access to treatment for conditions such as anxiety and depression. The U.S. government recommends having one psychiatrist for every 30,000 residents, but over 4,000 areas in the country fail to meet this minimum standard. When the Affordable Care Act was implemented, it increased demand for psychiatric care even further by reducing the number of uninsured Americans.
Telepsychiatry helps fill in the gaps by allowing psychiatrists to meet with patients no matter where they are located. This ensures continuity of care, which is essential for patients who need regular appointments after being diagnosed with serious mental health disorders. Telepsychiatry visits can also be useful for those who struggle to travel to appointments due to childcare concerns, lack of transportation and/or physical disabilities that limit their mobility. Iris Telehealth is a leading provider of telepsychiatry services. Peruse our website to learn more about how telepsychiatry services are being used to provide mental health care to those in need.