Book Review: Closer Together, Further Apart

Those of us born before the advent of the Internet may find ourselves at odds with youngsters who are right at home with all things digital.

In their new book, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships, Rob Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, and Jennifer Schneider, MD, PhD, take a fascinating look at what divides us – and how we can learn how to bridge the gap.

This isn’t a minor issue. The older generation – call us the “digital immigrants” – can’t seem to see eye to eye with our adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren on a wide variety of topics, everything from rule-setting, discipline, acceptable behaviors, what’s considered extreme, rude or outlandish, even how we drive, eat dinner or communicate in the same room. Hint: Digital natives prefer to use electronic devices, even while sitting next to one another.

No wonder their parents find this so hard to accept. What ever happened to face-to-face conversation? What’s with the tweets and instant messages and always-on connectivity?

For their part, digital natives may look upon their elders as out of the loop, old fogeys, uncool, refusing to embrace or at least learn new technology.

Actually, both sides have a point. The truth is that we’re all capable of seeing the other side of the issue, giving a little leeway for both embracing and ignoring technology.

How Did We Come to This Impasse?

Prior to the advent of the internet, people generally communicated via letters and phone calls. Once the internet came into being in the early 1990s, it only took a decade before it was so much easier and quicker to email to stay in touch.

Remember the clunky old early portable phones? Some of us do. They were at the cutting edge of technology then, but have been replaced by smaller, sleeker phones with all sorts of cool technology. We could not only talk with others, we could in real time send them photos, surf the Web, look up directions, make reservations and do all kinds of things.

Many of the digital immigrants may have had a hard time adapting to this, or maybe not. Some grandparents are quite at home in the instant-communication age, staying up-to-date with far-flung family and friends with this technology. Others, not so much.

Where will this all lead us 10, 20 or 30 years down the line? Is the rapidly and ever-changing technology of today going to spell ruin for interpersonal relationships? Will it, as once was feared for TV, mean the fall of the family?

Perils and Opportunities

There is vulnerability in the digital age. We surf the internet and put our intimate details (and sometimes intimate photos) out there for prying eyes to see. The negatives with all this openness include invasion of privacy, social isolation and loneliness, potential disconnection from friends and family, diminished physical activity, information overload, incorrect data presented and perceived as fact, potential diminished social skill development, child and adult safety risks, risk for consumer abuse and fraud, potential for manipulation and abuse of online dating, addiction or compulsive problems, distorted views of sexuality and intimacy, and diminished relationship intimacy and relationship infidelity.

But what of the opportunities? There are many and they increase every day, according to the authors. Collaborating in real time enables individuals all over the world to propose solutions to vexing problems, come together to offer assistance and aid in times of disaster, to brainstorm and create discoveries, launch new enterprises, promote self-sufficiency by establishing a virtual storefront and launching a business from home – in short, the sky’s the limit.

Where will all of this lead? What’s the next big thing on the horizon and will we be able to shoulder it with ease? Will it only be digital natives that succeed or will digital immigrants get onboard and adapt with equanimity and a fair measure of self-confidence?

The answer is that we don’t know. Authors Weiss and Schneider present a thorough exploration of the technological and relational challenges we face as a society, but also offer hope and guidance as we brave this new, exciting world.

This book is a must-read for any and all – whether digital immigrant, digital native or somewhere in-between. There’s insight and optimism balanced by sound advice to proceed with eyes wide open and cautious alertness. Most of all, when the research is in and we know more about any potential dangers, we’ll need to be flexible enough to adapt to safeguard what is best and to be cherished in life and relationships.

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