Deciding whether technology is “good” or “bad” can be like trying to decide the same thing about food. That is, it’s pretty obvious that it’s good in some ways and bad in others. But we need to be mindful of both as we tumble deeper into a digital age.
Some argue that technology has an immensely positive influence on our closest relationships. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claims that “when people are connected, we can just do some great things. We have the opportunity to bring the people we care about closer to us. It really makes a big difference.”
This is true. But we shouldn’t be too quick to generalise. Technology can also have a toxic effect on intimate relationships, one of which is Facebook’s own potential to exacerbate romantic insecurity.
The key features of insecurity are mistrust in a partner’s loyalty and fidelity; a deep rooted fear that they will abandon us, and a hyper-vigilance or awareness of potential threats to the relationship. It’s our psychological response to the fact that, on some level, life’s cruellest paradox is that those we love the most could (and often do) hurt us most deeply.
Insecurity can be a pervasive and enduring trait in some people but it can also vary in response to triggers (real or imagined) that heighten it. It has been well established as a driving force behind relationship conflict and disharmony because people are compelled to cope with it by seeking unreasonable levels of certainty, exerting excessive control, and punishing significant others for perceived wrongdoings.
It would be simplistic to suggest that technologies such as Facebook cause romantic insecurity. People were insecure long before social media came along. But it is important to explore how insecurity is intensified or shaped by a social media platform that facilitates an unprecedented degree of fusion between partners’ social networks.
Facebook – which started life comparing the appearance of Harvard students – gives couples access to multiple features of their partner’s social life. This includes a visible list of “friends” (raising questions such as “Why is he friends with her?“, “Why is she still in touch with her ex?”); documented public interactions with such “friends,” and pictures, comments, likes, and posts, each of which can be all too easily surveyed and scrutinised. This can serve as excellent fodder for the insecure mind that is hyper-vigilant to potential relationship threats.
Larger studies have supported the idea that Facebook seems to bring out the green eyed monster, arguing that it exposes people to ambiguous information about their partner to which that they wouldn’t otherwise have had access.
One of the fundamental ways that technology has changed society is by facilitating our surveillance of one another. It has been argued that we are now firmly living in an age of surveillance. But there must be a line, beyond which we pay a price for such a high degree of surveillance, such as human rights infringements and excessive invasion of privacy.
Facebook delivers a language of surveillance into the realms of young people’s relationships, changing how people relate. Some are finding that there is a line to be drawn here too, and that the psychological cost of excessive access to romantic surveillance includes a thriving sense of insecurity.