Technological narcissism and positive relationships

Fred Cavaiani

Have you ever tried to talk someone who is texting on their phone? What does this feel like? Usually we feel demeaned or unimportant. The great advances in technology with sophisticated cell phones put us in immediate connection with other people who may be in another part of our city or even another part of the world. The immediate satisfaction of playing games on cell phones and other devices create a quick entertainment for our children and for us. Taking children or grandchildren out to eat in a restaurant is quite easy now. There are no scenes or fights or loud words because the kids are on their devices playing games. Couples go out to dinner and might say a few words to each other but pay great attention to the electronic device in their hand.

I think we may be losing the fine art of connecting with one another in meaningful conversation. The ability to listen empathically to someone else can get blocked by sending a text message or looking at an email and investing our energy in a new app on our phone.

I have been corrected by family members when I pay too much attention to my cell phone. I am finally beginning to realize that I can become technologically narcissistic by paying attention to my cell phone when I am supposed to be relating with friends and family in conversation. This awareness of myself has enlightened me to observe how often people stop paying attention to one another and start focusing on their devices rather than on the people that are with them. I have often done this myself.

Someone told me that they have a rule at their dinner table that electronic devices must be put away. Dinner is a time for talking with each other. In churches and public gatherings we are reminded to turn off our cell phones. We are becoming slaves to technological intrusions and forgetting about the importance of emotional and positive communication with people who are present to us.

Walk down any street today and you will see someone on their phone. In every restaurant someone will be looking at their phone. It is the modern technological era now.

What has happened to the fine art of just conversing and listening to each other? What has happened to empathically connecting with the person in my presence? We begin to feel important when people pay attention to us. The positive elements of technological advancement are that we can always feel that someone is connecting with us through a text message, Facebook, Twitter or email. But the negative side of this is that it can lead to a narcissistic preoccupation with myself and cause me to neglect those who are physically present to me.
People around us are the first priority. I can return messages and send messages when people aren’t present.

We hunger for emotional connections. Positive emotional connections come through conversation with those around us. It can also come through phone calls and text messages. But we cannot and should not do both at the same time. The first priority is the people in our immediate presence. Pay attention to them. We need to do that.

I feel unimportant and somewhat neglected when I am talking to someone and they aren’t listening to me or tell me to wait so they can finish this message or call or techy game on their phone. I know this because I have done it often myself. It is easy to become self-centered or narcissistic in my use of my cell phone. I can easily forget about how important you are and just concentrate on what I want.

What are we teaching and allowing our children to do today? How much time do we spend listening to our children and teaching them to listen to others? How much time do we spend in gentle and empathic listening to other people. I think our present society is trying to shout out loud and clear: PLEASE LISTEN TO ME! But so often the response is “Just a minute, let me finish this message, or Just a minute, let me finish this game.” Worse yet, there is no response because I didn’t hear you say “PLEASE LISTEN TO ME.” I was too involved with my electronic device.

I love my cell phone. I love my Amazon Kindle. I like text messaging. It is wonderful to be able call friends at any time I want because my phone is always with me. Facebook allows me to connect with many good people. But when I use my cell phone and technological advancements to put me out of contact with those around me, I am doing myself a great disservice and telling the world and other people that “It is all about me. You don’t count that much.” When this happens consistently I put machines and devices before people. I stay in my own neighborhood of my mind and never venture forth. And the world then can become a very lonely and dangerous place because the fine art of emotional connections has disappeared.

There is a time and place for everything. I just need to put my priorities straight. You are important. I need to treat you in a very important and empathic manner. Positive relationships are most important. God help me to let go of my technological narcissism.

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Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 248-362-3340. His e-mail address is: Fredcavi@yahoo.com and his website is fredthecounselor.com.
 

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