Relationships in a digital era

A boy and girl busy on their smartphones and ignoring one another
Models: Kristle Vaz & Dylan D’Souza; Photo: © Shriya Kanodia

Everyone today is wired to each other in some way or the other, but without real wires. Digital technology keeps us in a world of our own insulated and isolated from the real world. Text messages and virtual greeting cards have replaced posted cards and letters. E-mails have effectively shrunk the world and eliminated borders and distances. Media technology and the internet have developed at a faster pace than our ability to understand the social, emotional and psychological impact of digital technology on human beings and human relationships. There are hazardous risks to human relationships due to digital technology and these cannot be trivialized. Digital technology is here to stay and we must be mindful of its rich yet unwieldy potential while impacting human relationships. Technology in some form has always been a part of human life. From electricity at one point to telephones to television and now to the more complex world of computers and cell phones, technology has always moved hand in hand with human development. More and more people use the internet to communicate while spoken communication and human relationships and dialogue continue to suffer. Let’s look at the effects of digital technology on relationships.

Girl in a dark room looking at her smartphone
Photo: © Aleksandr Proshkin / 123RF Stock Photo

Online communication in virtual reality

Virtual reality was originally conceived as a digitally created space that humans could access by donning sophisticated computer equipment and through this space, they could be transported to a different world, a substitute reality in which one could interact with objects, people, and environments. On one hand virtual reality allows an expression of what the ideal or real self would like to be or do in humans, but it also allows expression of a dark and ugly self that sometimes may be unacceptable to the real world. Chat rooms for instance allow individuals in virtual space to open up completely to strangers without the fear of being known and sometimes the advice sought may be helpful or even detrimental. Weak and timid individuals seek solace online in trying to express themselves as strong and robust personalities when in reality it is a façade they are letting themselves fall for. They withdraw even more from the real world and are happy in their false virtual world where they feel no threat from others. Children are hooked on to the internet at a young age which may hinder their ability to socialize, form friends and communicate freely. Children are happy in this dream world and continue to live in this fantasy with their so-called cyber friends who are victims of the virtual space themselves. Today husbands and wives, children and parents often chat online and talk online though they may be living in the same house and prefer it that way. Open face-to-face communication has dwindled and this may have had an impact on the quality of human relationships and the generation and evolution of emotions that are needed to fuel various relationships.

Weak and timid individuals seek solace online in trying to express themselves as strong and robust personalities when in reality it is a façade they are letting themselves fall for. They withdraw even more from the real world and are happy in their false virtual world where they feel no threat from others.

This may be because the real world sees the real human with real emotions and flaws that hurt us, compared to the online world that sees either a real self with no inhibitions, no fears, or rather sees a projected perfect self. This has been termed as the online disinhibition effect and refers to the way people behave on the internet with less restraint than in real-world situations. This concept is related to the concept of online identity. The core concept of the online disinhibition effect refers to a loosening (or complete abandonment) of social restrictions and inhibitions that would otherwise be present in normal face-to-face interaction. Because of this loss of inhibition, some users may exhibit benign tendencies; people may become more affectionate, more willing to open up to others, less guarded about their emotions and may speak to others about what they are feeling in an attempt to achieve emotional catharsis.

Dr Avinash De Sousa

Dr Avinash De Sousa

Dr Avinash De Sousa is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist. He is the Founder of the Global Society for Digital Psychology and the Founder Trustee of the Desousa Foundation. He can be reached at avinashdes888@gmail.com
Dr Avinash De Sousa

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Dr Avinash De Sousa

Dr Avinash De Sousa is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist. He is the Founder of the Global Society for Digital Psychology and the Founder Trustee of the Desousa Foundation. He can be reached at avinashdes888@gmail.com