Love In Time of Technology: Have We Lost The Ability To Communicate?

Posted on February 18, 2014 in Specials

By Saanya Gulati:

“I think people spend too much time staring into screens and not enough time drinking wine, tongue kissing, and dancing under the moon.”

indian couple

The connection between technology and relationships is a hard one to ignore. In today’s wired world, communication is instantaneous and boundaries are porous and it reshapes the way we interact with each other.

On one hand technology strengthens relationships by giving us more interfaces to interact on. Those of us who have attempted long-distance relationships have led a life dominated by ‘Skype dates’ and ‘staring into screens.’ The prospect of staying in touch with someone a thousand miles away is naturally less daunting, with several video-calling platforms available to us.

Yet, it is one thing to have these devices at our disposal and another thing to communicate effectively. What I observe in so many relationships around me is that the one aspect of our lives that technology should make easier is in fact what is missing: communication.

Before I elaborate, let me clarify that by ‘communication’ I do not mean the mere ability to communicate. I mean engaging in open, honest and meaningful dialogue; the kind of communication that is necessary for a healthy relationship.

More often than not I see people embarking on new relationships, or those in relationships, fretting about ‘why s/he hasn’t replied.’ Given the ease of using technology, this is a reasonable concern. It takes less than a minute to reply to a text message after all. But then there are the frantic ‘s/he was last seen on Whatsapp just five minutes ago’ or ‘s/he saw my Facebook message over an hour ago,’ and still hasn’t replied. This is where we hit a low point in our self-esteem.

The conundrum of ‘whether technology complicates our lives more than it simplifies them’ is one that we constantly face. Most of us can relate to Drew Barrymore’s dialogue in the movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You,” which hilariously captures this predicament:

‘I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work, and so I called him at home, and he emailed me to my BlackBerry, and so I texted to his cell, and now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.’

The multiplicity of gadgets and platforms we can use to contact another person is confusing, to say the least. But it is easier to blame technology than to answer the more difficult and underlying question: are we are losing the ability to have a meaningful dialogue?

Technology has reshaped the social contours of communication, by creating a language that demands a greater degree of dispassion and indirectness in the way that we express ourselves today. The norm is now to appear nonchalant rather than express an interest in another person, because we somehow delude ourselves into thinking that this is what leaves the other person wanting more. To put it simply, it is cool to ‘play hard to get.’

It rarely occurs to us that constantly appearing detached can and will eventually come across as being simply disinterested to the other person. How many times have we initiated a conversation with someone we are interested in that is plagued with mechanical monosyllabic pleasantries (hey, what’s up, nothing much, what else etc.) in the hope that it will eventually lead somewhere?

A video called ‘What could Have Been A Love Story,’ which recently made the rounds on social media, encapsulates this message in a nutshell.

By virtue of technology, we can communicate more often and easily. But it is we who suffocate self-expression. I have seen the letters that my mother and father exchanged while they were dating. Just a generation ago, people could fill up pages declaring how they felt about one another. The same people often lament the lost art of letter writing in today’s wired world. But the real loss our generation suffers from is the ability to freely express our emotions. We are either afraid that we may say too much, that what we say may be misconstrued to mean something else, and god forbid we come across as sounding too ‘desperate’ or ‘clingy.’

For us millennials, a relationship can mean anything from being physical to romantic, casual to exclusive, a fling to a thing. Given the grey areas that exist between ‘just friends’ and ‘being in a serious relationship,’ it sometimes seems simpler to ‘go with the flow’ than actually confront the other person. But embracing the spontaneity does not mean we should negate the need for communication. If anything, communication is even more crucial in the uncertain era of new-age relationships that we are entering.

A simple yet powerful message from the video ‘What Could Have Been A Love Story’ is this: ‘Self-expression: try it. You won’t regret it.’