Our friendships, family bonds and romances change over time. The flows change according to the society we live in. The currents of cultural norms and material circumstances have a profound effect but since mass communication networks stretched across the world, there is another player in the game, Science. Research is beginning to change what is possible for us and how we go about our relationships.
The first and most pleasing way science is changing our relationships is via medical science. Longevity has changed our families and is changing things still. We have the chance to know our older relatives for longer and in better health. With lower life expectancies, it is impossible for adult grandchildren to have the chance to know their grandparents, great uncles, and aunts. Younger and older people benefit from inter generational exchange. There’s no better time to make the most of it and talk to your grandma or hear her stories.
Secondly, Science is having a hand in changing who we meet. When people look for a romantic partner now, the chances are they will do at least part of their search online. Perhaps through a dating website or app. The companies who run the apps and websites use the information the person inputs but also their own estimates and algorithms to predict who will like each other. The element of random chance is being reduced in how couples meet. On a personal level, you have to decide whether to let the algorithm do its work, or go analogue to meet your one true love.
Science has also changed how we relate to each other, not just who with. Social networking and communication technologies have a profound effect. We can keep in touch with family and friends across the world at the click of a button. The days of expensive long distance phone calls and letters that took weeks to arrive were hard on far-flung loved ones. Distance could disintegrate a close relationship. On the other hand, many people now accuse social media of encouraging on-screen communication over real-life experiences with others. They worry that it makes it easy to present yourself as perfect or see others that way. We can all appreciate the opportunity of staying in touch but unlike any time before, we should be a bit wary as well.
Science has also fundamentally changed the relationships between us by creating fast transportation. From steam engines to cars, bullet trains and airplanes, the capacity to get places has changed what we think of as our local area and created larger communities that feel a sense of shared identity. We don’t panic when a friend moves to a neighbouring city because we know we can still see them with only slightly more inconvenience, once it would have been a pilgrimage to be undertaken rarely and on horseback or on foot over days of travel. This is an unambiguous good, so take advantage of it.
The flexibility and availability we all expect is so much more than has ever been possible in the past. The pace of change is getting faster every day and we can all expect our relationships to need to react. There are costs to our brave new world, but keep your eyes open for the payoffs too.