Electronic Devices and Emotional Intimicy

a short comment I made to someone’s lament about having lost the concentration and focus necessary to read books.

Use of electronic media works a lot like the slot machines in Las Vegas — random, infrequent small payoffs/rare medium payoffs/very rare large payoffs.

The dopamine hit comes on an intermittent, random schedule, which is the most powerfull reward schedule for eliciting a strong habituation of a behavior in rats and people. Unfortunately unimportant electronic experiences not only take up significant time, energy and attention, they can also create a felt “need” in many people to keep checking for those infrequently worthwhile messages/information. This distraction and interference with genuinely important emotional relationships with family and friends sends the clear message “You aren’t important enough for me to give my undevided, focused attention”. Degree of habituation/?”addiction” varies among people, but the diminished and devalued emotional intimacy we lose is critical for personal connection, balance and contentment,

Another danger of written communication about important emotional content is that people generally think they understand the sender’s meaning 90% of the time, but research indicates accurate understanding only about 50% of the time. The receiver is prevented from reliably understanding written communication by the lack of 1] analogical marking [non-verbal, audible “grammer” in spoken language], and 2] the lack of body language/visible display, which together comprise 80–90% of the actual meaning of spoken words. The danger to personal relationships is huge — remember the pain and trouble when you and/or the other have badly misinterpreted printed messages with loved ones or family members, especially lovers.

So I recommend to all my clients: 1] they not allow themselves to have their electronic devices turned on during time with people who are emotionally important, i.e. any relationship folks want to be genuinely emotionally intimate; and 2] they not use Email or text to communicate/discuss important feelings with anyone.  Often folks realize the dangers only after being repeatedly burned by the inevitable, often intense misunderstandings of Email and texting.  Turning off electronic interruption and dilution of emotional closeness can be challenging at first, and the bad things that never happened are, by definition, impossible to measure.  So it requires a certain maturity of experience to realize the huge benefits of practicing these guidelines. The misfortune of not protecting emotional closeness is a lot like using a phone or texting while driving — you may not know how dangerous these practices are until disaster[s] strike, and even then, you and/or your relationship may not survive the consequences.   DrBobDick.com

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