I love surveys. They can be used to prove almost everything. A new survey has been released by Ofcom* which highlights the impact of technology on family life and claims that we are experiencing the reinvention of the 1950s living room. James Thickett, Ofcom's Director of Research claims:
"Our research shows that increasingly families are gathering in the living room to watch TV just as they were in the 1950s - but now delivered on bigger, wider and more sophisticated sets. Unlike the 1950s family, however, they are also doing their own thing. They are tweeting about a TV show, surfing the net or watching different content altogether on a tablet."
Some of the Ofcom conclusions are questionable. There may be one TV in the house, but this is because it is a large widescreen, surround sound monstrosity. Why would a child choose to watch a small cheap reject television in their room, when they have a home entertainment cinema set up downstairs? And in fairness, the likelihood is that the teenager is watching Netflix on her laptop in her room. #justsaying
Regardless as to merit of the survey, it is interesting to consider the impact of technology on family life.
I think it is clear that technology can certainly help bring families together, particularly with older children or scenarios where family members are scattered all over - Skype for calls, Facebook for photos, Top Table for reserving tables for special occasions, shared calendars for arranging time together, online meal planners for organising dinners, online shopping for getting the food in. All these tools can enable closer connections.
However, does sitting around a living room with five people doing different things result in a close relationship?
Well it certainly helps. First of all, everyone is together and are interacting in the same space. In fact, the retro 1950s correlation could even be developed further as the current trend is more akin to the Victorian living room - someone playing the piano, another sewing, another reading - all in the same room. The same room being the important factor.
When exploring the research, I stumbled upon Vicky Beeching's blog. She made an interesting point that it is proven that we learn "more effectively when we (a) listen (b) write notes and (c) teach the material to others." Perhaps next time National Geographic, or Downton Abbey is on, getting on our tablets and smartphones and opening up Wikipedia will ensure we learn more about Great White Sharks or 1940s fashion.
I would rather a big family group conversation any day, but if that is not happening, why not use technology to improve our engagement i.e. through Whatsapp groups or group Facebook pages.
All this got me pondering about the role of technology in my own family over the years. There was Vincent (The Biggest One) who was always tinkering away with technology as a child/teenager, deconstructing simple machines and later learning about coding and programming. Then there was Sion (The Littlest One) who is an avid user of technology as a social tool.
Then there is me. I wasn't always into it. I certainly remember attempting to outlaw computer games, thinking that such technology would distract from studies. Mobile phones took a long time to get to the Breslin house. But I've learned that if you can't fight it, join it. Now I am an avid supporter and user of technology - I'm sure you've seen me on Twitter and my bread and butter is all about a digitised solution. It is not rare to see me watching TV with the laptop on my lap as I mail interesting article links to my sons.
The one place I will not have technology is on the dinner table at family mealtimes. Someone recently asked me why this was and I couldn't immediately put my finger on it. I just knew in my heart it was wrong. Call me old fashioned, but I just think that 15 tech free minutes a day to engage in conversation is vital to a healthy family. Definitely use technology to get everyone to the table and eating tasty food, but take 15 minutes out and enjoy each other. Not to mention that food will taste whole lot better with your undivided attention.
Now. I'm just going to sign off this blog and have a conversation with my husband... Or maybe I'll just send one more tweet or add another blog post.
*Ofcom is the Independent Regulator and Competition Authority for the UK Communications Industries. No, I didn't know that either.