Is it possible that the devices that are meant to help us communicate actually hinder communication?
"I think it can in many ways and certainly I think the technologies are wonderful, but at the same time when we become so dependent upon those technologies we really, in many ways, forget how to have conversations with actual human beings in person."
John O'Neill is Director of Addition Services at The Menninger Clinic. O'Neill says whether or not you can become addicted to being "connected" is still an open question.
"What I see and what we've seen here at The Menninger Clinic a lot is the amount of people who become so dependant upon it in a way that may not be that dissimilar to drugs and alcohol and other types of additions, but I'm not sure yet if we are ready to say 'yes' absolutely, this is an addition."
But addiction or not, O'Neill says using technology instead of a face to face encounter can hinder real communication
"We know from a variety of studies that some of the ways that we really get the message is through non-verbal's, looking at someone's body language, looking at someone's eyes and the eye contact, and without that we have no idea how to really interrupt the message."
But it is more than just getting into an e-mail or texting war because you misinterpreted the intent of the original message, people need to learn when and how to have a face-to-face conversation. A recent study found that 15-to-20 percent of young people have ended a relationship electronically. Conflict, discomfort and feelings can be avoided, but that's not a good thing, says O'Neill.
"That is a necessary skill that all have to have in life, the ability to talk to someone even when it's painful and harmful and hurtful. To have this conversation with them and look them in the eye and say 'I care about you' or 'I don't care about you'."
O'Neill also says the obsession with being connected all the time can be problematic. If you have to check you messages and even hide to do it. If you are taking calls and texting while in a meeting or with family, friends and associates, if you simply must have your cell phone or blackberry with you all the time, you may have a problem.Î¾ What to do? O'Neill says first take an inventory of how you use your gizmos throughout the day and night, at home and at work and ask someone else to help you take the inventory.
"And then the second step is going to be to start developing some limits; at six o'clock every night I'm not going to check my work e-mails anymore, I'm going to go on vacation with taking four or five devices with me, I not going to text message when I'm driving, I'm not going to go to one of my kid's sporting events or one of their activities and spend all the time checking messages and talking on the cell phone, I going to be present, I'm going to be there present not just in body but present in mind."
O'Neill says all this is not to say that technology is bad and leading society to the precipice of disintegration, but rather that we should become mindful of our technology use and learn to use it in a way that's healthier for our relationships.