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March 01, 2017

The title refers to a relatively recent cultural phenomenon: the interruptions and intrusions into our everyday lives by technology devices — devices that are always on and always present. When it comes to our primary relationships, technoference seems an insidious problem... and one that's affecting more and more couples. 

According to the researchers who coined the word technoference: "By allowing technology to interfere with or interrupt conversations, activities, and time with romantic partners — even when unintentional or for brief moments — individuals may be sending implicit messages about what they value most, leading to conflict and negative outcomes in personal life and relationships."[i] 

In a 2014 study, 75% of 140 women reported that smartphone use significantly undermined the ease of connecting with their partner. It's not a surprising statistic, given the ubiquitous use of phones and other devices nowadays. According to a Harris Interactive poll entitled "Americans Can't Put Down Their Phones Even During Sex," one third of adults reported using their phones during dinner dates, and 20% of respondents between 18 and 34 even reported using their phones during sex.[ii]

It's hard to escape the cultural influences encouraging constant smartphone use. When most people in our social and professional networks operate with the expectation that they and others need to be available all the time, it's hard not to conform. Many of us have bought into the myth that some emergency — be it with our children, spouse, or clients — awaits at any moment, necessitating answering our phones or reading text messages whenever we hear the ding. Primary partners in particular often desire our instant responsiveness, which ironically conditions us to always reach for the phone... except of course when we're with that partner and we're expected to not allow texts or calls or the allure of checking email to interrupt partnership time.

Consider establishing protective boundaries around designated relationship moments, whether it be dinner, chatting over coffee in the morning, or enjoying a TV show or movie together at night. Have a conversation about the realistic risks in letting calls roll into voicemail, and allowing emails or texts to go unread or unchecked for 30 minutes (or longer) while you protect relationship time from technoference. Nowadays, it sends a powerful message to a loved one when we refuse to let our devices steal our focus from shared moments together.

References & Citations

[i] McDaniel, Brandon T.; Coyne, Sarah M. "Technoference: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women's personal and relational well-being." Psychology of Popular Media Culture, Vol 5(1), Jan 2016, 85-98.