Has our obsession with electronic devices become more alienating to family relationships than even the teen years?  And what are the implications for client/customer relationships?

Alex Williams’s cover story “Quality Time, Refined,” in the Style Section of The New York Times earlier this month, raised these questions.  The writer described one of the families featured in the piece, who happened to be from Huntington, New York, where my Long Island public relations firm is based, as exhibiting a toddler-like phenomenon of parallel play, with parents and kids each absorbed in his or her own hand-held or lap-nestled technology during “together time” on the family couch.

The voracious appetite for amusement and entertainment — both stimulated and satisfied by today’s technology — presents opportunities and challenges alike to the public relations practitioner. The opportunity lies in the countless outlets eager for content; the challenge is directing the right traffic to your message.  Every day at Epoch 5 Public Relations, we form new e-relations—through Facebook, Twitter and Skype; with bloggers; by texting; and yes, with people we meet IRL (in real life) and talk to on the phone.

Over the last decade, how we communicate and relate to each other has transformed at a dizzying pace. Thanks to Facebook, the very definition of “friend” has changed, seemingly irrevocably. But one thing remains the same: as human beings, we need physical contact, even if it’s just tapping each other occasionally, as one couple interviewed for Williams’s article does while gazing at their screens.

Perhaps that decades-old AT&T slogan, “reach out and touch someone,” is not dead yet.