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Barnabas Center
Barnabas Center

Boundaries in a Digital Age

Erin Adams, MAMFT, LPC, NCC

Technology has changed the world, hasn’t it? I mean, you can stay in touch with people you would likely never otherwise run into, you can share knowledge in the blink of an eye and be entertained anywhere, anytime. This digital age frees us to do other things rather than being tied to a desk waiting for that important phone call. It’s amazing what we can know and accomplish all in our pajama’s in front of the tv! But, I’m sure you’ve also seen the other side. Those silent family dinners where no one is speaking because they are all absorbed in the face of their smartphones. Or kids or spouses who lose hours in front of video games? I’ve had the experience of being with friends on planned outings all the while feeling left out or ignored because they couldn’t seem to disconnect from their phones. We’re sharing the same space but not sharing an experience.

I’m reading John Ortberg’s new book I’d Like You More if You Were More Like Me in which he talks about the development of intimacy. In his book, he says intimacy takes shape through a shared experience with someone else. Sharing an experience, he says, happens when we are fully present and engaging all our senses with them. Doctors Cloud and Townsend in the 25th Anniversary update of their best seller, Boundaries, say that “intimacy isn’t a luxury but a necessity”. In fact, they say, studies show an increase in medical and psychological problems and increased death rate when folks don’t have enough healthy, intimate relationships.

So how do we make the most of this digital age while also mastering intimacy? Intimacy happens best when we are in face-to-face interaction with one another – when all 5 senses are utilized. Intimacy drops as we engage in activities that limit our 5 senses. For example, FaceTime or phone conversations are great but touch, sound, and smell are eliminated as possible points of intimacy. Other forms of digital communications such as online video gaming, emails, texting and social media limit our senses even more. Setting limits on the use of digital media helps create space to share experience, not just space. Consider setting daily time limits on electronics and establishing digital-free dinner zones or scheduling “unplugged” game nights with the family to find that healthy balance and stay intimately connected with your loved ones.