You and your boyfriend are out for dinner. It’s been a pretty eventful day and there's a lot you want to share with him. Most of the time he seems to be listening… but his eyes keep darting down to the smartphone vibrating on the table. Finally, he says he just has to check something. A few minutes later he picks up his mobile again. Ever since he got the phone he's been attached to it as though it could save his life. You teased him at first, but it's really begun to bother you of late.
Researchers have a name for the interruptions caused by gadgets like smartphones: technoference. Anyone who's experienced technoference can vouch for the fact that it can be annoying. But in a recent US study, researchers looked at whether everyday gadget use can harm a romantic relationship and even affect a person's well-being.
The researchers tracked down just under 150 women who were married or living with their boyfriends. The women filled in online surveys about technoference in their relationships. They told researchers whether it was common for their partner to pull out his mobile phone during a meal, for example, or send emails during a face-to-face conversation. The women also answered questions about whether they fought over their man's technology use and how their relationship and personal life were going.
More than 70 per cent of the women said technology use was an issue in their relationship at least some of the time, the researchers learned.
Technoference most often took the form of guys using their gadgets when couples were relaxing together. Over 60 per cent of women said their man picked up his phone or another mobile device once a day or more when they were hanging out together. Other forms of technoference included guys reaching for their mobiles in the middle of a conversation or during a meal with their partners.
What effect did their guy’s gadget use have on these women’s relationships? Not surprisingly, the more often a woman experienced technoference, the more likely she and her partner fought over technology use, the study found.
Tech-related conflict actually led to unhappy relationships. This had far-reaching consequences: more technoference was linked to dissatisfaction in life and depression, the researchers learned.
Set your tech-time limits!
You may be wondering how checking an email or sending a quick Facebook message – things that seem harmless and really only take a few minutes at most – can have such a major impact. Quality time together is vital to any relationship and it’s hard to listen to someone properly and have a meaningful conversation with them when there are constant interruptions, the researchers point out.
They also say the problem is the message a person sends to their partner when they allow gadgets to interfere with a conversation or time spent together. Even quick or unintentional interruptions can tell someone that their partner’s priorities are elsewhere, say the researchers, which is definitely not the most reassuring of messages in a romantic relationship.
What do you do if all this sounds familiar? Totally banning gadgets doesn’t make much sense, the researchers acknowledge. But couples might want to talk about what’s allowed… and what’s not. This could mean something simple like putting smartphones on silent during mealtime. For others, planning to turn gadgets off completely to focus on each other during when they’re hanging out might be the way to go.
Source: “Technoference”: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being.(2016). Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 5(1):85-98