Technoference in our Relationships
It happens when you check your phone during a dinner conversation with your partner, when your child wants to show you something “really cool” but you just want to finish that video, or when you’re trying to tell your partner a story and you see their finger scrolling up on Instagram –technoference, a phenomenon that people seem hyperaware of and yet simultaneously oblivious to in our society. Technoference refers to interruptions in interpersonal communication caused by attention paid to personal technological devices. It has a daily impact on many of our relationships and over time it can take a toll on relational satisfaction.
Researcher Brandon McDaniel first coined the term “technoference” when he explored how electronic devices influence and intrude upon face-to-face interactions in both romantic and parent-child relationships. While the experience of being distracted and feeling disconnected has always existed, we’ve never had to compete with devices that are designed to absorb, keep, and reward our attention like smartphones and tablets.
The emergence of this term allows us to name this confusing experience and focus on the real issue – boundaries. Many quickly demonize our personal devices as the thieves of quality time with our partners, but the actual culprit is the lack of boundaries we have with using our phones and tablets. Below I offer some questions to help you and your partner create a deeper understanding of how technoference manifests in your relationship so that you may become more aware of how to manage this recurring problem in the future.
Self-reflect to build awareness around the issue: Does my partner complain about me being distracted? How often am on a device (phone, computer, tablet) while I’m with my partner? Why am I on my device (e.g. scrolling through social media, doing work, playing a game, talking to friend or family)? What does my partner think I’m doing?
Check-in with your partner to better understand their perspective of this issue: How much does “technoference” play a role in our relationship? What message do I send to you when I’m on my phone when you want to engage with me? How can I make you feel seen/heard when I’m distracted with my device (e.g. putting down your device and making direct eye contact with your partner while they speak)?
Fostering intentionality: How can we create space for quality time away from screens? Do we feel comfortable picking a time of day to put our phones away and just be with each other (e.g. establishing a daily “screen-free hour”)? If that’s not realistic, usually because of professional obligations, what can we do to make each other feel like a priority in our busy lives?
Engrained habits are hard to change but building awareness around them gives us the opportunity to understand how they impact our lives and our relationships, which is the first step to lasting change.