Relationships 3.0?

Once a year for the past five years, my mom’s four sisters descend upon Washington D.C.  In between the laughing, eating and drinking, conversation has increasingly turned towards the impact of technology on our culture and, in particular, their kids.  This weekend, these moms shared a fear I hear constantly when on the road: they worry that their children are losing the ability to relate to people in what they call “the real world” i.e., offline.

It doesn’t take a sociologist or Internet expert to look around and see that for many teens, communicating online or via text seems simpler than communicating face-to-face or by voice.  A report out in 2008 found that teens send or receive over 1,742 text messages per month, but only make or receive 231 voice calls.

Many of the teens I have talked to have said they feel “pressured” and “anxious” when communicating face-to-face, but they feel much more free to get to know people in a “deeper” way online.  While online and text communication is wonderful, it’s important to find a balance with our teens. Late last year, a Toyko man married a video game character from the Nintendo game “Love Plus”.  While we have seen many avatar-to-avatar marriages in the virtual world, this is one of the first human-to-avatar marriages that I have been aware of.  The 27-year-old said that the Love Plus character, Nene, is better than a human girlfriend.

Hiroshi Ashizaki, an author who writes about Internet and game addiction warned that “Today’s Japanese youth can’t express their true feelings in reality.  They can only do it in the virtual world.”  I don’t think we in America are too far behind.  Games like “Love Plus” can be fun, but they set a dangerous precedent for relationships—In “Love Plus”, you, the player, accumulate memories and feelings between your future love.  As the character grows to like you more, she adjusts her tastes to you and focuses on pleasing you for the rest of the game (which has no real end).  How can our kids, with their own likes/dislikes/gifts compete with buxom avatars that bend to their suitors’ every desire?

It’s important, even as our online and offline worlds continue to merge to take breaks from communicating through a screen.  When taking a family trip or having dinner, consider putting your phones, PDA’s and other Internet-enabled devices in a bucket for a few hours a day.  When your kids have friends over, have a device-free dinner, share stories and help your kids to realize that they are as fun in person as they are on Facebook.  Keep tabs on what games your kids are playing, be leery of games like “Love Plus” and virtual worlds like Second Life.  Have conversations with your kids if they are involved in virtual worlds to help remind them about what is real and what isn’t.


  1. Mike Thompson

    I see some connections between online relationships and the new new GGW television show. I am an older male and can recall the decades ago feeings I had as a young teenage boy hoping to see next the next month’s centerfold and the next. While probably typical, what really breaks this spell is our first relationship with a young, adult woman. We of course liked the girl–but didn’t want her to be the next centerfold for all to see–we had a personal relationship and not one at a distance. Yound people I know are indeed somewhat fearful of face-to-face communication which, of necessity, shows the clues and revelations of the eyes, smiles, frowns, long looks, and maybe even rejection. It is “easier” when that online distance is there and the black and white text is devoid of tone and inflection..nor does one even have to reply. Yet the distance of it all ties into the “object-based” nature of it. Where we really break down is in confusion over sex and intimacy. Too many in society carry with them the curious assumption that sex is to be associated with the impersonal: as a “stripper” or pornstar for example…or today, as technology permits, an online persona. I do agree that GGW promotes the impersonalization of women. I won’t here condemn everyone’s idle fantasy (I am surely guilty), but we need not so engagae in the impersonal life devoid of intimacy that we seek to promote it as the standard for behavior we want. I get the show: “Sex sells.” I wonder why. Too many people don’t know what sex truly is, still seek intimacy, and forever get lost in chasing the impersonal where they will never find what they want.

    • Mike-thanks so much for your comments! We are actually working on a post for tomorrow on GGW new version, Hottest Girl in America.

  2. pam Clapp

    Great blog! I loved your suggestions and hope more parents (and grown-ups) will take time outs from electronic devices. People need to rediscover the joy of looking at a real face, hearing a voice and all it’s inflections and communicating with flesh and blood people and all that brings. I’d take the real thing any day!!!


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