Does Technology Harm Human Connectedness?

Human connection enables our brains to mature, our emotions to evolve and our bodies to develop healthily. Throughout life, our social connection to others nourishes us, validates our worth, intensifies human bonding and secures our physical and emotional stability.  Many people worry that modern technology hinders human connectedness.

Neuroscience studies document that our parental bonds facilitate our healthy maturation. Babies imitate their parents, and learn to resonate with another being through physical, visual and emotional exchanges. Both love and anger are evoked in response to desired reciprocal attention or lack thereof. Shared affirmations are the building blocks to healthy brain development, positive self- regard, openness to learning, a sense of safety and a positive disposition toward others.

Marc Prensky, the author of four books about Digital Learning coined the terms: “Digital Immigrants” describing individuals who were born prior to the digital age, and “Digital Natives”, who are ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.”

The potential damage of technology to human connection seems to be more commonly raised by Digital Immigrants. They are worried about technology’s impact on human’s eye-to-eye socializations and cite concerns about adolescents’ and adults’ immersion in electronic devices that they fear hinders direct human connection and bonding.

To quell the worried individuals’ fears about the younger generations’ reliance on interpersonal connections through technological devices, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA Professor of Psychiatry and Bio-Behavioral Research Scientist writes, “Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion. It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.” He clarifies that “It is our need to be social that drives us to connect through social media, iPhones, gossip, or watch the social interactions of characters on soap operas and reality shows.”  In his view, the means of social connectedness may have changed but the drive behind the quest to connect with others is the same social need that keeps relationships vital and enriches human bonding.

One of the compelling needs of adolescents is not only to develop individual friends but to also find a peer group for psychological, social and emotional support. In their process of emancipating from their parents, adolescents seek the support of their peers in assessing their thoughts and behaviors through group norm, which can be quickly electronically confirmed.

During adolescence, teenagers are prompted by hormones to find a special boyfriend/girlfriend who can affirm their uniqueness and lovability. Though the means of finding their special friend may have changed, the instant, ongoing accessibility to each other through smart phones, texts, Internet and instant messages actually provides immediate social support that serves teenagers needs better than did the former, less frequent personal encounters.

Words for worried Digital Immigrants:

  • Realize that though different, the Digital Natives’ social connectedness has been facilitated by technology in ways that enable them to strengthen their human connectedness.
  • Avoid worrying about or criticizing the Digital Natives. They are no less connected, supported and socially bonded than previous generations were.











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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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