Intimacy: A Face-to-Face Skill that Screens Can’t Teach
Intimacy. It's defined as a close personal relationship and is synonymous with words like friendship, affection, and rapport. Experts say it is one of the most important skills learned in adolescence, but now warn that too much time on social media may threaten the art of developing close, deep connections with another human being.
According to a recent study out of UCLA, the pervasive usage of digital media, which is typically text-based and excludes nonverbal emotional cues, can diminish the in-person experiences that young people need to master social skills. Even when media is used to communicate socially and includes technologies like Face Time, Skype, and video chat, the skills necessary to develop intimate connections may be lost.
Learning intimacy requires understanding nuances of human behavior and expression which can only be gained from in-person interactions. In the Connect with Kids documentary, First Comes Love, psychologist Robert Perez reiterates the importance of children and adolescents spending time with one another, "What we want people to learn how to do is talk," he said. "We want people to learn how to deal with their feelings, and ideally we want them to learn how to deal with their feelings at a verbal level."
Learning how to “talk” and deal with feelings at an intimate level not only requires understanding and responding to non-verbal cues but also includes spending significant amounts of “real” time with another human being.
Intimacy Takes Time
A University of Southern California study focused on understanding the impact of “Rapid Fire Media” indicates that social media and other forms of technology not only limit opportunities to assess verbal cues but also the time it takes to develop emotional attachment.
According to the USC researchers, it takes time and reflection to develop feelings like compassion or admiration that are based on moral values. But this kind of time is lost in the fast-paced world of digital media.
The emotional toll of frequent exposure to a rapid flow of media and information through television, computer, tablet and smart phone screens is explored by the study. They warn that it could thwart the development of a strong moral compass.
The New Dating Game
Many believe that this concern is manifesting itself in the new world of teen and college dating. The New York Times raised the issue in 2013 with the article “The End of Courtship.” Now others cite apps like Tinder and MyLOL to lament the lost opportunities for teens and twenty-somethings to understand and find meaning in intimate friendships and romantic relationships. The problem has long-term implications not just for the individual but for society as well. Studies have shown that adolescents who fail to develop skills of intimacy may be more inclined to suffer from a low self-esteem and depression, ultimately curbing their ability to function at full capacity. Adolescents who seek out these kinds of relationships online can also expose themselves to great danger by using social media to meet up with strangers.