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.