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What Makes Human Relationships Irreplaceable in the Digital Age

Monday, July 10, 2017

Human relationships are at the very core of virtually everything we do.
There is hardly a person on this planet that is not touched by some kind of human relationship. The qualities that define human relationships defy reduction to data points. Human relationships are based on deeply felt trust, belonging, and connectedness with others. Such feelings simply do not compute.

These qualities of the human experience cannot be synthesized into charts and graphs with analytics tools. They are what drive human innovation and engagement the world over. In fact, without trust, a sense of belonging, or connectedness with others, we wouldn’t have any recognizable cultures or societies.


Indeed, we wouldn’t have relationships at all.

So, what are these qualities and why are they of prime importance to us? How do they make human relationships irreplaceable in the Digital Age?

Join us as we explore these questions and attempt to answer them.

Trust

One of the most fundamental aspects of human relationships, trust is the glue that connects us with one another. At its core, trust is about being able to count on another person to fulfill a promise, honor an agreement, or do the right thing when presented with a moral dilemma.

Without trust, few relationships survive very long. Even the most dysfunctional relationships involve an element of trust rooted in knowing what the other person is likely to do.

In the absence of trust, there is little to hold us together.

The Role of Feelings 

Feelings are the barometers of our inner worlds, shaping our awareness and informing us about others in a way not possible with mere logic, reason, or analytics.

Logic and reason render human relationships as two-dimensional drawings, empty representations of the facts. Without feeling, the graph is meaningless.

Feelings are part of what make human relationships irreplaceable. We love our visual data and statistics and the logic used to create them, but we place supreme value on our feelings. Without them, we would no longer be human.

The Need for Human Interaction

We humans are social by nature. We have a fundamental need to interact with other human beings. When we are deprived of human interaction, we quickly descend into mental illness, even insanity.

Why is that? Human interaction, and by extension, human relationships are a fundamental human need. We may love the camaraderie of our favorite MMORPG, but nothing compares to seeing an old friend or hugging a loved one.

No matter how far the Digital Age takes us with new technologies, we will still crave physical human contact. It’s what makes human. Indeed, it's what makes human relationships irreplaceable.

The Importance of Touch

The keystone to human relationships is touch. In an article in Psychology Today, Ray Williams, President of Ray Williams Associates, says that scientific research has correlated physical touch with decreased violence, greater trust between individuals, improved well-being, and other benefits.

The importance of touch cannot be over-emphasized. It is the fulcrum upon which our most meaningful human relationships balance. Without touch, we lose an important dimension of human experience that connects us with others. Not even millions of followers on Facebook or Instagram can begin to compare with the power of touch and its central role in human relationships.    

Belonging

We desire to be a part of something greater than ourselves, and human relationships provide us with that opportunity. Through our relationships, we experience a deep sense of belonging that is based on being accepted by others and our own acceptance of them. 

Social media may promote a deep sense of belonging through connecting with (thousands of) others, but it has fallen far short. In a recent NPR Shots article, Holly Shakya, Assistant Professor in the Division of Global Health at UC San Diego, says, "What we know at this point is that we have evidence that replacing your real-world relationships with social media is detrimental to your well-being."  

Social media may try to replace physical human relationships, but it is doomed to fail. Only genuine, physical human relationships can provide a lasting, deeply meaningful sense of belonging.

Loneliness

David Bornstein, writer for the NY Times, mentions Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self Sherry Turkle and her book Alone Together in a discussion of significant increases in loneliness. As of 2004, one in four Americans shared that they had no one with whom to discuss important matters.

While some futurists praise the technological advances of the Digital Age, few seem to be paying attention to the long shadow it’s casting on human relationships. It would seem that, the more we are involved with Internet-based relationships, the lonelier we get.

Social Media

Facebook is a towering social media leviathan, with nearly 2 billion users as of May 2017. Then there are Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, plus many others. 

In an ironic twist, some research has shown a correlation between greater social media status and declining mental health, including lower self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

Unironically, one of the most effective ways to reach out to someone with social media addiction is to physically be there for them, spending time with them and offering them support.

The idea is to replace the time they would otherwise spend on social media with quality physical time working out or just hanging out.

What Does the Future Hold? 

While no one can accurately predict the future, we know many things will change, and life in the distant future will be very different from today. In the future, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots may be an integral part of our lives, with some even conversing with us as though they, too, were human. They may even be programmed to love us as though they were human. But, no matter how close AI can come to mimicking human thoughts and behavior, no matter how life-like robots become, they will still be technological marvels, and nothing more. A hundred years from now, we will still yearn for and seek out relationships with other humans.