I Want My Family Time!!!

The latest study conducted by Center for the Digital Future at the Annenberg School for Communication is screaming that we need more family time and it’s the Internet’s fault!! One of the biggest concerns is that they found that “28% of people said that being wired has resulted in them spending less time with family members.” The problem is that this number was only at 11% back in 2006. Another statistic that is concerning is the amount of shared time that a family spends together. In 2005, the average number of hours that families spent together each month was 26 hours. The 2008 study shows the number dropped to only 18 hours. Finally, in 2000, 11% said people under 18 were spending too much time online as opposed to 28% in 2008.
Okay, so these numbers are concerning but I needed to find whether or not I could get the same kind of data elsewhere. I first turned to my old friend Computerworld which holds a very important place in my heart. This editorial award winner was one of my favorite technology magazines when I was working in advertising. First of all, they did quote some numbers from the Forbes article and actually let us know how many people were surveyed (2,000 people). They also quoted other numbers that were derived from the Consumer Internet Barometer which is a quarterly report put out by the nonprofit The Conference Board that surveys 10,000 households. Their study talked more about social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The overall gist from this study is that of Internet users, 43% of them use a social networking site, as opposed to 27% from a year ago. Aside from the fact that they are using these sites, more than half of the users are logging on once a day and the majority are using these sites several times in one day. I love the quote by Lynn Franco who is the director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. She says, “Online social networks are more than just a fad among the younger generation. They’ve become an integral part of our personal and professional lives. They’re an effective way to keep in touch with people, connect with friends and family, and network with colleagues.” Okay, I can kind of buy into that statement, especially if a person is trying to get back in touch with an old friend or network with old business associates (an essential now that there are no jobs and the economy is in the toilet, but that is a different discussion). What I can’t buy into are the number of users who friend maybe 300 people that they don’t really know so that it becomes a contest of how many friends one has versus the quality of friends.
I also can’t stand the amount of personal data that is being thrown out there for everyone to see. It goes back to my argument of breaking the rules of Social Penetration Theory. People are self-disclosing information on these websites that they may not necessarily disclose to a friend. For example, my cousin and her husband are adopting a baby. Detailed information is splattered all over Facebook. Yes, they are excited and they should be as this has been a long road for them. However, I really don’t want to hear about it through Facebook. I want to talk to them and listen to their stories about how they got to that point and have some real face time. I want to see the excitement on their seven-year old daughter’s face as she talks about this new addition. I also don’t like that Facebook is not really instantaneous in the way that face to face communication is. The article that we read for class by Kiesler, et al talked about not being able to regulate feedback. Another point they made had to do with what they called dramaturgical weakness. Seriously, do you think that an emoticon is nearly as effective as seeing non-verbal cues in real time, in live action? What about actually hearing the tone of a person’s voice?
Another point this article made was that people were more uninhibited when they communicated using a computer. They also stated that even though people felt more embarrassed when meeting in person, they actually ended up liking each other more. I definitely agree with both of these points, but they didn’t specifically talk about those are communication reticent. I remember an article that we had to read in our quantitative research class where the purpose was to “develop and validate a measure of affect for using communication channels.” One of the findings was that those who are communication reticent were helped by CMC in that they experienced reduced anxiety and had more time to prepare what they wanted to say especially in the case of e-mail. This is a very good thing. This article is entitled Development of the Affect for Communication Channels Scale and was authored by Kelly and Keaten. It can be found in the Journal of Communication 57 (2007) 349-365.

Okay, so I found the Annenberg information in the Computerworld article as well as well as other data from the Consumer Internet Barometer. I also have information from the Kiesler article and Kelly and Keaten, but I still needed to look further. Another study was published in CyberPsychology & Behavior (October 2007, 10(5): 640-644. doi:10.1089/cpb.2007.9975). Sook-Jung Lee and Young-Gil Chae conducted a survey of 222 fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade Korean children. The study was two-fold and examined the following: “(a) whether children’s Internet use influences declines in family time and family communication and (b) how parental mediation techniques are related to children’s online activities.” I didn’t have access to the full article, but what they found was the “total time using the Internet was related to perceived declines in family time but not related to family communication. The influence on the Internet on family time and family communication differed by the type of children’s online activities.” The study said perceived family time declined with Internet use, not family time. It also said that family communication was not affected. In addition, it factored the type of children’s online activities. I would like to compare the full results from this study with the full results from the Annenberg School’s study.

I say even without the Internet, social networking sites, and Twitter we could use more family time! I say who has that much time for the Internet or television???? In my family we mostly eat breakfast in shifts, hardly ever eat lunch together and we are lucky if we get the family dinner in 3 times per week. We have cable but we hardly ever watch television. We don’t use the Internet for fun as much as we use it to access information or shop online. I have a Facebook account that I barely use. We pretty much live in our car. My husband and I have two children who are nine and eight, and they have A LOT of activities. He works full time and I am in school, but between the two of us we help them with their homework, help them with piano, take them to piano lessons, basketball in the winter, soccer in the spring, all combined with year round swimming that requires them to be in the pool 3-4 times per week. Plus we make time for our Wheaten Terrier who needs to be walked twice per day or else she will be way too hyper. Oh, and we just got back from a weekend swim meet in Indiana. Whew!!! We do make sure we spend our Sunday mornings completely together rollerblading with our dog. That is our time, where nobody can interrupt us and we can focus on our family. When that one hour block is over, it is back to reality of homework, swimming, piano, etc. But there are so many families like mine. There are many families who are living the same life that my family is living. They may even have more kids and even more activities.
Okay, so the point I am trying to make is that I think there are other factors that could contribute to stress and the family breakdown. One of the quotes from that came from Michael Gilbert, senior fellow at Center for the Digital Future was “In the last two decades, there has been an erosion in family dinners together that take place without gadgets.” “There’s reduced cohesion, reduced communication.” I say turn off the gadgets!!! Turn off the television! Turn off the cell phones! Turn off the pager (unless you are a doctor)!! Don’t even answer your land line (if you still have one). When we are eating dinner together, we do not let any gadget interrupt our time together. We don’t have the television on during dinner and we never answer the phone. Doing so would only negatively impact the time we are trying to spend together. If our son is telling us a story about what happened at school, or what went on in swim practice, we want to hear it. If our daughter is dealing with some drama in her eight-year old life, we want to be there. If families are living in their cars driving their kids around, that is the perfect time to talk. I hear more about what is going on in my kids’ lives when I am taking them to school, piano, or the grocery store. The trick is to not let them have a gadget in the car while trying to talk to them.
In summary, I think it is all about balance and time management. I find nothing wrong with going online and using social networking sites or playing games. With all of the stress in people’s lives it is just another way to unwind. The world is a much more complex place versus what it was 20 years ago. However, It is when the Internet completely consumes your life at the expense of your family members, then it becomes a problem.


Technological Determinism

I am absolutely, positively determined to have the most advanced technology versus anyone in the whole universe. My life will be more enhanced, more organized, more socialized, and just plain better. Those were the thoughts that raced through my mind when I first read the term technological determinism. Joking aside, in order to really think about this definition, I dusted off my Theories of Human Communication book to see if I could get at the root of the definition. In this book, Littlejohn and Foss discuss ontology – the “branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being,” focusing on the nature of social interaction. One of the important issues of ontology is answering the question as to what extent people are making their own decisions, or as they describe real choices. The two points of view that are considered are whether or not a person is a pragmatist or a determinist. A person is a pragmatist if the belief is that humans are active decision makers who can control their destinies. On the other side of the spectrum are the determinists who believe that prior conditions will cause human behavior, and that humans are passive and reactive individuals.
In terms of defining technological determinism, this theory examines the relationship between technology and its effect on society. This theory states that technology will determine social change including the degree of that change. Relating this theory back to the deterministic way of thinking, the person would not be an active participant in creating change. The person would act according to the conditions set before them. In this case, a change in technology would cause a change in the social conditions. One of the issues with this way of thinking is that it is seems to take an all or nothing approach. The technology, which technological determinists consider as being autonomous, would cause the social change, giving little regard to other factors such as economic, political, or religious factors that could also contribute to a particular change. The theory forces simplistic thinking meaning there could be more complex reasons for a particular change.
In terms of applying this theory to a particular technology, a well known example is the Segway. The Segway was first unveiled in 2001 after months and months of hype. Before giving away any real hint of what the Segway was going to be, Ginger (its code name) was touted as the “it” that would change a person’s life. Ginger was going to change transportation in a way that no one could ever imagine. The question, what was that mode of transportation going to look like? The public speculated that Ginger could be some kind of personal jet pack, or something straight out of the Jetsons. This Segway was supposed to present itself as something so different and fascinating that it would cause society to change. There was so much hype with this product that once it was unveiled, it proved to be disappointing. The Segway was expensive, it was bulky, and in many places it has been banned from sidewalk use. The annual sales target of 40,000 units was too ambitious, as only 50,000 is the total number that has been shipped since its inception. The Segway is a niche product with a high price tag (starting price at approximately $5,000), and it did not catch on the way the company thought it would. However, there are many Segway tours in bigger cities and vacation spots such as Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Naples, Florida. Critics have said that one of the biggest issues with the Segway is that it was a “solution looking for a problem.” The Segway was supposed to change society as we knew it, but that kind of change never occurred.
Another technology that was kind of plopped in front of us and did cause a change is Facebook. Founded by students at Harvard, the original intent was to allow college students at the university to stay connected with each other. Its usage quickly expanded to include other colleges in the Boston area, the rest of the Ivy League schools, and Stanford. It quickly spread to high schools and finally to anyone who is age 13 or older. Social networking and “friending” people that you may or may not know is the catalyst behind this phenomenon. Facebook enjoys over 200 million active members worldwide. Its mission as stated on its web site is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to keep in touch with their friends, upload pictures, and share videos. Where technological determinism comes into play is where the technology was disclosed and people took that technology and began to change the way they communicate. I have a Facebook account that I never visit. I don’t have the time to deal with it and I don’t really care that much about keeping in contact with 300 people that I know from a friend of a friend, of a friend. I try to be private in my life and will only be open with close friends. I recently ran into a former classmate of mine and she told me she got engaged. She said that if I had a Facebook account and used it then I would have found out when everybody else did. I told her, that if she felt her news was so important, she would pick up the phone and call people. Facebook should not be a substitute for face to face or telephone communication. It should enhance what we have, not replace it.


What is Fair?

This is a short one today. I have two kids and they are nine and eight years old. My eight year old went to kindergarten with a little boy who died from complications of meningitis this past Wednesday. We are going to his funeral today. My daughter is wise beyond her years. She said, “Why would somebody who is crazy and evil like Osama bin Laden be allowed to live and a dear, sweet, wonderful little boy have to die?” That is the question that cannot be answered with simple words.


Saying No or Caving In

This is a test blog but to make it more interesting, it is a story of an actual event that took place last night. My kids brought home a puppy from camp for the night. The deal is that you take home the puppy and they hope you make the puppy a permanent fixture in your home. My kids, especially my son fell in love with the dog. We already have a dog. We have a beautiful, loving, Wheaten Terrier. Our dog did get along with this puppy. At First. The whole family fell in love with the dog. Our son begged us and begged us, trying to sell us on the virtues of owning another pet. I kept looking at my husband trying to send a silent signal that I was caving. He looked back at me and he was caving too. I wanted to cave and say yes. But then, the puppy growled too much. She was eating her bone and I touched her (we can do that with our dog all the time), and she jumped up and bit me. She broke the skin and drew blood. I ended up having to get a tetanus shot this morning just to be sure. The bite killed the deal. There would be no puppy being added to this household at this time. As my husband said, there are just so many dogs that if there is one little thing you don’t like then it isn’t worth it. Will this dog grow up to be a biter? Was it just being territorial because she had never had her own bone? Did she like our dog, or did she want to hurt her? We won’t know any of those answers because we are not getting that dog. There are many others who need a home. There are so many that it is worth taking the time to make sure that you get the right one and that the process doesn’t end up biting you in the you know where.