Roses are red

Screens are blue

Emoji love letters

Say #I?U.

Despite the overblown materialism of Valentine’s Day, the old romantic in me still remembers the youthful excitement of finding an anonymous card or even flowers from a secret Valentine.

Ah, yes. That bygone era when budding romances weren’t relayed in texts or Snaps and great love stories weren’t told in real-time InstaStories. Valentine’s Day may be one of those throwback moments when we can stop and return to more old-school tokens of love and affection.

Or perhaps not.

I recently watched an engagement video (yes, that is a real thing) where the couple recalled the early days of their relationship when they’d send each other nothing more than emoji poems to express their affection.

Emoji poems? ?

To be fair, while a string of computer icons may seem a little sterile to some, the now-married pair (like one-in-three couples today) met on Tinder. Swipe right for romance.

Prompted by Arianna Huffington’s provocative article on technology and humanity and my friends at Thrive Global, I’ve started to wonder how exactly love is manifested or marred by the omnipresent technology in our lives.

There aren’t many moments left in the day that are untouched by tech in some way. While this phenomenon has brought immeasurable and unquestionable value, technology—not unlike an obsessive love or illicit affair—can have a dark side too…a collective fatal attraction, as it were.

Strong signal, weak connection?
Those of us with dinner plans this Valentine’s week (John, if you are reading) look forward to a night of romance and true connection. I don’t know about you, but I’d much prefer to gaze into my husband’s eyes than stare at my screen—although it’s probably lucky for me that Valentine’s occurs after football season has wrapped up.

Speaking of, how many of us watched the young boy during last week’s Super Bowl halftime as he frantically tried to tee-up a selfie with JT, all while his image was being broadcast worldwide and captured for posterity? The Monday morning memes made Ryan McKenna an overnight viral sensation.

One could argue that it’s not his fault but rather symbolic of how the iGen has been conditioned. But is this what our society is increasingly becoming? The “Walking Digitals”? The selfie-aborbed? The semi-present?

And the trend is equally worrisome at work. I’ve started to become far more aware of the implicit signals we send one another with our constant habit of checking our phones during meetings. Each time I succumb to the temptation (and I do), I reprimand myself and acknowledge that it’s the digital equivalent of pulling out a newspaper, cracking it open, and effectively ignoring whomever is speaking.

Zoning out the old-fashioned way is one thing, but checking WhatsApp threads is another. For many of us, this behavior is now muscle memory. I’ll have to BRB to you on what it means for our collective productivity, but I suspect our smartphones don’t make us look so smart in these moments.

Feeling “psyched” for family time

In a world of three-second Snap videos, providing our undivided attention for any extended period of time is perhaps the ultimate representation of how much we care.

Recently, we’ve banned our 13-month-old daughter, Rosie, from using our iPhones. While it was cute at first to admire a six-month-old swiping or even to enjoy her recent newfound talent for selfies, we also recognized the diminutive effect of instant i-gratification on her toddler mind. Clearly, an app for The Marshmallow Test is overdue.

Our grown-up millennials, however, are a whole other story. This past Christmas, John and I had the pleasure of having his “young adult” kids join us in Ireland for the holidays. One morning while upstairs, I could hear collective laughter in the kitchen. I came downstairs to find all seven of our modern family sitting around the table, each and every one of them on his or her phone. Huh.

Turns out, they were playing something called Psyched—a multi-user game of collective bluff. Who needs family board games when you can have the equivalent of modern-day monopoly, hosted by none other than Ellen DeGeneres?

The times, they are a changin’.

I’ve grown accustomed to his text

With all that said, it would be wrong to classify phones as the digital Dementors of family life. Nothing could replace the utter joy of video-chatting over the holidays with John’s son, Tom, who was deployed in Afghanistan. For our family, technology bridged the distance and brought a few happy tears to our eyes on Christmas morning.

And, having lived for the past eighteen years as an immigrant, I cannot tell you how much technology has become my literal “home button”, helping to curb the inevitable bouts of homesickness. Although separated by an ocean, knowing that my family is only a swipe away makes it possible to feel, as the Irish author Colum McCann puts it, like “we are both here, and there, at the same time.”

I often joke that it was actually a text that launched the love of my life. Or, perhaps more accurately, the absence of a text.

A few years back, I traveled through South America on my own. I’d grown accustomed to John texting every few days to see if I was still alive (as good friends do). However, I was unprepared for my reaction when my phone showed a read-receipt but no response. This man, whom I had only ever thought of as a friend, evoked feelings of “Whoah, I really miss you” without saying a word.

#HelloCupid? More like #HelloStupid in my case.

Augmenting our Reality

The reality is, we’ve been conditioned by a habit-forming device that encourages us to keep our attention focused on it. Since technology was never designed to be anything but addictive, it’s simply doing its job.

However, anything that demands all our attention (like a needy partner or spouse) is not nourishing for us. Arianna Huffington correctly asserts, it’s our job to maintain healthy relationships with our mobile devices so that technology serves to augment our human relationships instead of control them.

The good news is that romance is still very much alive, and all of the things that make it a powerful, positive, and emotional force are still there. We just need to be present—not iPresent—in order to experience intimacy and build love and trust the old-fashioned way.

That’s why I say: let’s promote holding hands, not handhelds, this Valentine’s Day.