SXSW: Is Technology Weakening Interpersonel Relationships?

March 13, 2010

12:51 pm

It’s odd that as I sit here and type a post reporting on this session, I am using the very technology that the panelists said could be affecting our interpersonal relationships :).  This panel, as the title states, took a look at the impact technology is having on our relationships – and whether it is good or bad.  As I listened to the discussion, I twittered that I was at the panel and got a few funny responses:

“Getting a tweet abt this = height of irony. RT @techcocktail: Next session at sxsw ‘Is Technology Weakening Interpersonal Relationships?’ “

Oh, how true.  But I regress, the panelists – three experts with Ph.Ds and one Ph.D candidate – had done a lot of research on the topic and led a great discussion. Theyexplored five questions:

1.  How many succesful relationships can we maintain?

This discussion revolved around the over-connectedness many of us find ourselves in these days and how this displaces the time that we may have otherwise been spending on building personal relationships.  According to studies, we can only handle roughly 1,500 relationships. But the question here was, how do we define those relationships?  They could be simple acquaintances or close friends, and the distinction is important.

2.  How does technology affect romantic relationships?

Some panelislts felt technology is degrading the ability to have romantic relationships, while others disagreed.  They argued that technology allows us to skip that odd, awkward step in getting to know one another because Facebook and Twitter had already given us the background on our “date.”

3.  How does technology affect workplace relationships?

With our state of being always connected, the line between friends and co-workers has been blurred, and how we handle these relationships has become a serious isue in this era of instant messages and continual status updates.  The one consensus it seemed, backed up by studies, is that it is not a good idea to “friend” your boss.  However, the question was asked, what happens if one of your co-workers becomes your boss? The gray area gets even grayer.

4.  How does technology affect our own identity?

This was an interesting question, that some argued happens off line as well.  People often project a different persona, depending on the situation or environment.  Technology has extended this to include the blurred lines between professional and personal identities.

5.  Can you maintain a relationship solely with technology?

This was a hot button topic, and both the panel and audience were split. But the majority still seemed to still feel that technology was no replacement for the human touch, at least not yet.

This was a great discussion, and I also suggest you check out the hashtag #iprpanel to get some great insights from the audience.

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Jimmy Gardner is a Senior Unix/Windows Engineer, a lover of technology and photography. Follow him online at @jjgardner3 and enjoy his portfolio at

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