Couples use technology in the little and large moments. They negotiate over when to use it and when to abstain. A portion of them quarrel over its use and have had hurtful experiences caused by tech use. At the same time, some couples find that digital tools facilitate communication and support. A majority of those in couples maintain their own separate email and social media accounts, though a smaller number report sharing accounts and calendars. And fully two-thirds of couples share passwords.
Tech as a source of Tension
Whilst most of the qualities that help sustain a good relationship have not changed – commitment, effective communication, constructive conflict and patience, honesty and forgiveness amongst others – there is strong evidence that couples are using these technologies to enhance their relationships. Both the opportunities and threats associated with the use of internet and mobile technologies by couples and the use of them must be understood and considered to ensure programs are relevant and meaningful to meet the evolving needs of couples in all their life stages.
For generations, commentators have worried about the impact of technology on people’s stress. Trains and industrial machinery were seen as noisy disruptors of pastoral village life that put people on edge. Telephones interrupted quiet times in homes. Watches and clocks added to the de-humanizing time pressures on factory workers to be productive. Radio and television were organized around the advertising that enabled modern consumer culture and heightened people’s status anxieties.
Inevitably, the critics have shifted their focus onto digital technology. There has been considerable commentary about whether internet use in general and social media use in particular are related to higher levels of stress.
Such analysts often suggest that it is the heaviest users of these technologies that are most at risk. Critics fear that these technologies take over people’s lives, creating time pressures that put people at risk for the negative physical and psychological health effects that can result from stress.
Interestingly, US studies reveal that the frequency of internet and social media use has no direct relationship to stress in men. For women, the use of some technologies is tied to lower stress.
The survey analysis produced two major findings that illustrate the complex interplay of digital technology and stress:
- Overall, frequent internet and social media users do not have higher levels of stress. In fact, for women, the opposite is true for at least some digital technologies. Holding other factors constant, women who use Twitter, email and mobile picture sharing report lower levels of stress.
- At the same time, the data show there are circumstances under which the social use of digital technology increases awareness of stressful events in the lives of others. Especially for women, this greater awareness is tied to higher levels of stress and it has been called “the cost of caring.” Those users who feel more stress are those whose use of digital tech is tied to higher levels of awareness of stressful events in others’ lives. This finding about “the cost of caring” adds to the evidence that stress is contagious.
Studies have shown that the widespread use of the internet and related digital technologies is not responsible for higher levels of psychological stress. Stress is not associated with the frequency of people’s technology use, or even how many friends users have on social media platforms. For women particularly, the use of some technologies is tied to lower stress.
- Hampton, K.N., Rainie, L., Lu, W., Shin, I., & Purcell, K. (2014). “Social Media and the Cost of Caring.” Pew Research Center, Washington, DC. Available at: www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/15/social-media-and-stress/
Tune in for more next week.
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