It is always difficult to deal with change. We know that the transformations wrought by technology are amazing and wonderful. Yet there is an ever-growing suspicion that it is threatening to dismantle something basic about human communication. It makes it challenging to have a face-to-face conversation, engage in a good cry with a friend or even participate in the age-old game of flirting. What do we do? Can we keep our children and ourselves from using the Internet as a substitute for “real” relationships?
As we evaluate our relationship to technology a quote from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy seems most appropriate: “…everything that’s already in the world when you are born is just normal….anything that’s invented….before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative…anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization.” (Douglas Adams)
Our history is replete with instances of our ability to adjust to different circumstances whether they be migrations, climate changes, revolutions or evolution. It has, thus far at least, ensured our survival when other species have fallen by the way side. We have survived learning that the world is round; that the earth revolves around the sun; that humans can fly into space even.
My own parents adjusted—not too well—to the advent of automobiles. My father was born in 1903. He grew up on a farm and took care of horses. He learned to drive a horse and buggy and even though he learned to drive a car he always hated cars and driving. Mom never did learn to drive. I got my driver’s license when I was 16 and I always thought it was some kind of an anomaly. My mother didn’t drive and my father hated it. But through the generations we had adapted. Now I am watching my children and grandchildren take to the information age like the proverbial ducks to water.
It is true that technology presents a different challenge than we have ever faced before. It has altered the way we form human connections. Young people and even some adults choose to live their lives online. The questions that frighten me at least are some of the following: Can we live without the natural bonds that are fortified by an arm around the shoulder or a warm hug? How do we assess someone without eye contact, that vital window into the human soul? How will we connect with our children who start out as infants craving only food, warmth and physical contact?
I don’t think we have answered questions such as these as yet, but I am hopeful that we can and we will. If history is a marker we have done so many times already. But as with all the progress that humanity has experienced we must work—a group of us, a core of us, a majority of us—to preserve the values that define the best of us—altruism, integrity, courage, passion, spirit and human love. We must instill those values in our children through our example and our involvement with them. We can and we must insert them into the digital world in ways yet to be imagined.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.