The human need to form relationships apparently transcends the idea that such connections are exclusively assigned to other human beings. Additionally, the type of relationship is powerfully influenced by need, convenience, function, space, place, time and culture, along with a potent drive to satisfy a need, which resides within.
In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks shipwrecked and alone, magnificently captured the powerful drive to satisfy the need for a relationship and used what his time and place provided. He tore open a FedEx package containing a soccer ball. Using what he could find in his environment, he sketched basic facial features on the ball to resemble a human face, and all other ascribed intrinsic human attributes came out of his need. What or who we form relationships with, once we are free to choose, maybe just as much influenced by our immediate surroundings as the drives from within.
Increasingly during the past few decades, technology has permeated our social matrix in ways that make it difficult to view a world without it. Such familiarity through constant exposure makes it almost impossible not to have a relationship, on some level, with technology. As the relationships with technology increases, so does our familiarity, which in turn provides more opportunity for a variety of interactions and experiences with technology, just as in any other relationship. It is the human need for relationships and the way this need is used which may have teaching implications in helping seniors, those with learning challenges, and/or adults re-entering the work force, and others acquire a level of skill and mastery in the use of technology.
There is familiarity and there is space which is also a factor in a relationship. It sets the parameters, helps to define the type of relationship, is a gauge in measuring the quality of the relationship, and provides the context and the history of the relationship. An intangible personal possession holds vastly different meanings for different people, but, nonetheless, requires understanding and appreciation. The cry for more "space" is a common theme expressed by couples experiencing problems, along with sentiments about one partner not willing to share "their space". As we enter a "meaningful" tech-relationship, the space the machine occupies is critical to the quality of the relationship.
The illustration below presents a playful approach to looking at these issues from a psychological perspective. There is acknowledgment of our tendency to ascribe human attributes to inanimate objects thereby establishing the basis for a relationship. The intent of the illustration is to provoke some thinking about teaching techniques and new designs which give recognition and value of human beings' powerful need to form relationships, even with a machine.
I need Tech-Relationships that are easy, understanding, loyal and can readily make adjustments to my needs.
There were times when I felt downright immoral, moving from one relationship to another, searching for "Tech-Right". Maybe I had difficulty with commitment. My longest meaningful relationship was with my last PC. It was wonderful, most of the time, although complicated. It held everything that was dear and important to me and shared meaningful moments in my personal and professional journey. It knew my secrets, my vulnerabilities, my desires. It was a true partner.
As in all relationships, there were issues. I tolerated and sacrificed a lot for the sake of the relationship, often confronted with degrading and ugly material. The stance was always the same, viewing me as inflexible and not understanding the bigger picture.
Why should I allow it to get so close if our relationship is not an exclusive one?
Its purpose was larger than any one relationship, and this fact was muddled by it being situated in a space that belonged to me. In hindsight, I realize that my expectations may have been warped, because it shared my space. Its existence transcended the space it occupied, but the space it occupied, influenced my feelings. How could it so uniquely be part of my life, with entry into such private areas and not fully respect, and appreciate my needs?
In the end, I came to terms with the certain facts about its character. It had no loyalty, little integrity, no sense of decorum, and was arrogant. It was filled with layers of complex messages and material, stuff that was poured into its tech-mind by people it knew nothing about, and then delivered into my space as if invited. At times, it took on the persona of the messages it so diligently delivered. It did not care, but I was left to deal with all of those thoughts and feelings that were now part of me. It felt nothing when I entered into its space, but I felt everything when it entered mine.
I do not feel like my needs are being met.
The relationship lasted almost three years. I am not sure exactly when the final turning point occurred, but I remember feeling that it was becoming less and less responsive to me. There were times when it would just stop in the middle of a sentence, with no explanation on what I did wrong. How can I be expected to change if I don't know what I did wrong? I tried everything to fix the relationship. I sought professional advice; I cleaned out the clutter, which I thought could be interfering with clear communication. I even gave it more space (memory) so it would not feel so cramped. Things got better for awhile, but I just did not feel the same. I needed to be able to count on this relationship, and the frequent problems made me question its sincerity and willingness to stay with me during the ups and downs. I was having a difficult time trusting it, and the stress this was causing only served to exasperate feelings that I had been silent about for too long.
Dealing with loss:
It was over and I needed to move on. As I took steps to terminate the relationship, I must admit that I was ambivalent. It was not easy to walk away when I had invested so much. However, I must admit that walking away was empowering, equalizing. I never felt like an equal in the relationship, and there were times that I sensed that it loathed my ignorance. It was putting up with me only because it knew no other existence, and to be functional was to be alive. Its short life span was a defect; a defect that ultimately made me feel more like an equal.
Preparing for a new relationship:
During my rebound, I was introduced to my first laptop. I needed something to fill the gap and I did not want to rush into another PC-Tech Relationship. I was still getting over my lost files. It did not take long to realize that this relationship would not come close to satisfying my needs, having so many quirks and issues that I just could not resolve. It became a good friend, one that could take care of "certain" needs, and one that I could turn to while building a relationship with my new PC.
I hope I have grown in ways that will make this relationship better. Perhaps, I need to expand my skills and make adjustments in my thinking so that I bring a broader understanding and more realistic expectations to this next Tech- Relationship. I will attempt to make some changes, but it must still understand that its existence remains intricately tied to my needs. Nevertheless, I need to better manage my emotions and alter my expectations because I do want this relationship to work.
Lisa Paisley-Cleveland, Ph.D., LCSW
Sharpervision Consultants, LLC is dedicated to helping adults improve relationship skills at work and in their personal lives.