See Attached: Adult Attachment and Technology
Inspired by reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows 1 recently, this blog will discuss ways that technology and our relational attachment needs interact.
What do I mean by attachment?
Adult Attachment Theory is something that psychologists and counselors have been studying and applying since John Bowlby’s experiments in the late 1960’s. 2
The simplest way I can describe attachment in this sense is that we fall into secure or insecure categories of attachment based partly on how our caregivers tended to our needs when we were growing up, and partly from our significant relationships as adults. These categories can change based on your state of mind, traits, or even the relationship in question. They can also change over time with intention (i.e. earned security). There is a podcast called Therapist Uncensored that helps break down these categories into plain language. 3
And what do I mean by technology?
Yeah it seems obvious, but books were considered new technology back in the day! “New technology” is dependent on the context of the times, and for the purposes of this blog I mean the internet (including phone, computer, and tablet use).
What do human relationships have to do with the internet?
We all have different strategies of coping when we become upset. Attachment theory talks about the importance of having a loving secure person to help you regulate when you were too young to know how to do so. If you didn’t receive that, then often you’ll find ways to try and distract yourself or tune out. These are attempts to regulate by yourself through means such as eating, exercise, drug use, self-harm, or media entertainment such as video games, social media, watching videos online, etc.
These are solitary ways of trying to essentially calm down when your attachment system activates. Your attachment system is usually activated when you feel the need for more or less intimacy within a relationship.
Some of these regulation strategies (or ways of coping) work better than others for some people. But, attachment theory posits that healing is really best done with others. 4 Like, as in get up and go to someone else and talk to them while they listen empathetically. That’s a thing, right?
What about my online relationships?
There are so many different platforms of interacting with others online (social media, MMO games, forums, chat, email, etc.) and there are multiple ways that people interact within those platforms (playing solo vs. playing in a guild; playing online with offline friends or playing online with anonymous friends, etc.). So, making generalizations about what happens when you interact socially online is ultimately a mistake.
Rachel Kowert and other researchers are working hard studying social relationships online. Kowert’s main takeaway was that online friends have their advantages (more diversity; online interactions providing more accommodations) but that they’re never a substitution for offline friends (more emotional bonding, physical resources like helping you move). 5
So as you muse over this blog, what comes up for you? Do you feel there is a relationship between your attachment system and how you interact socially online? These are questions you can bring up with an attachment-savvy therapist to explore further!
- The Shallows – Nicholas Carr, book on Amazon.
- John Bowlby article explaining Attachment Theory.
- Therapist Uncensored Podcast. Episodes 59-61 break down the insecure attachment types.
- Attached – Amir Levin & Rachel Heller, book on Amazon.
- Rachel Kowert website.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog titled Attachment and Technology: For Clinicians.
Also released is part 3 of this blog titled Attachment Types and Technology.
Otherwise, if you’re ready to start exploring reach out to me here for a free in-person 30-minute consultation in south Austin.
Julia Stamman, LPC
Hi, I’m Julia! I’m an LPC (licensed professional counselor) practicing in South Austin. I understand the personal importance of a therapist groking my lifestyle, so I started helping others who identify as geeks, gamers, and/or misfits. Over time, I realized that I’m passionate about attachment-related trauma, social anxiety, and neurodiversity. On this blog, I write on topics like the overlap of alternative culture and mental health, and how to find services catered to these lifestyles.
A wonderful read! I completely agree; online relationships are no match for in vivo interactions. Now I’m off to do more digging about Rachel Kowert’s research. Thanks for sharing 🙂
We could start a book club on her work! It’s really fascinating stuff. Let me know if you find something of hers that you like (: