COUNSELOR'S CORNER: Smarter but not wiser

By Fred Cavaiani

Technology is wonderful. Children learn more ideas and facts by the age of five than many of us had learned by fifteen years of age. Social media has helped people connect with long lost friends and helped others to make new friends. Email, Facebook, Twitter and the other social technological advances have blossomed many good writers. These powerful tools have helped many to realize that they can write and express wonderful inspiring thoughts. People can experience friendship instantly by Texting and Facebook. Many men and women no longer experience social isolation as they once did. I have personally connected to many people in my history that I had not spoken to in years because of distance and different paths taken in life. There are other people that I had known casually in the past and now experience these men and women as caring and kind people. Other friends and I have become closer because I can text with them and know that they will respond back quite promptly. Then there are those Facebook friends who express such wonderful ideas by attaching an article on something that is happening today. They help keep me current on important interesting issues.

Then of course there are the apps that are helpful. I use Lumosity every day to keep my brain sharp. And my Fitness Pal app helps me to keep my weight under control and motivates me to keep up my exercise routine. If I want to know something quickly, I can just Google it and presto, I know something new and have access to it quickly. There are many good and connecting elements about our advances in social technology. We are all lucky to be living in this technological age.

There is however a downside which really scares me. So often I notice that when children and adults are gathered together most are checking their cell phones, IPods, tablets, computer games, etc. I often observe four or five people all doing their own thing but not connecting to each other. In a restaurant it seems common to watch a couple checking their phones instead of looking at each other and conversing. When children are present each one can often be on a phone or iPod, or Kindle. Now we have phrases like 'an hour free from electronics.'

When I go to Church or a community gathering there is the announcement before the event starts: "please turn off your cell phones and electronic devices or switch them to silent mode."

I think we have become wiser and more connected and yet dumber and less connected at the same time. This really hit me between the eyes when my wife and adult children told me that I wasn't listening to them and that I was on my phone checking email, Facebook, etc instead of attentively listening to them. Then when they told me that I wasn't paying enough attention to the grandchildren, I was immobilized for a moment. What a wake-up call this has been for me. I was becoming addicted to technology and putting people in second place. That, I thought, was so unlike me. I didn't realize what was happening.

It is more important to be relating attentively to the person sitting before me than to be checking my phone. We give the people around us the message that technology and other people, places, games or whatever is more important than being with them at this very moment.

I was born in a small town in the Upper Peninsula. As children we roamed the woods, played sports, and continually were engaged in doing active things together. Looking over the history of this small town many years later, it is clear that there were many successful people in all walks of life that evolved from this very small town. Looking over the past I realized that these very successful people had two things in common, self-confidence and a wonderful ability to relate personally with other people. It seems like people were more important than things and belief in God and in oneself became more important than belief in something outside oneself.

My fear today is that if we don't personally connect to one another we will start acting like robots and treat those around us impersonally. Then to become really engaged we will return to our phones or computers. This is called regression and living in fantasy. We dehumanize ourselves and we dehumanize others.

When Dionne Warwick sang her song many years ago "What the worlds needs now, is love, sweet love" she was reminding us of what is most important in life: relationships. When our technological wisdom and fun gets in the way of deepening our personal and emotional relationships we dehumanize ourselves. When our children grow up to become immersed in computers and social technology to the detriment of positive and emotional relationships, we will be raising emotionally stunted kids who will be more at home in fantasy than reality. When we do this ourselves we escape from living and live in a fantasy world. Sometimes this is called Fantasy Football, Candy Crush, or whatever computer game we have become addicted to.

Maybe we have to ask ourselves the blunt question: Are we living more in our heads than our hearts? If we have neglected our hearts and personal relationships with others we have neglected living.

I am going to become much aware of how easy it can become to put my phone before people. That must stop now. There needs to be many more people moments than phone moments. I love all our technological advances but I must never let this get in the way of connecting to the people around me.


Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage & family therapist and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and Henry Ford Medical Center. He conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeastern Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 248-362-3340. His e-mail address is: and his website is

Published: Tue, Mar 18, 2014