Taking our technology from home and on holiday

Once upon a time information and communication technologies (ICTs) were unfamiliar and mysterious to us, simultaneously exciting and threatening. Over time, and with experimentation, our experience and confidence with it has increased. Now technology is like a family pet – a ‘domesticated animal’ and part of our everyday lives. It is familiar to us, it no longer holds exotic appeal, and is just a part of the mundane family routine.

 Our homes are filled with a plethora of technological devices including multiple television sets, personal computers, digital music players, fixed and mobile telephones, fax machines, DVD players and electronic game consoles – the family home is a communication hub, enabling family members to perform many activities in a variety of times and spaces. In many cases, the home is better equipped than our offices and work places! The Australian Media and Communication Authority (ACMA) has published numerous reports supporting the notion of ‘media rich’ family homes. It has been found that socio-economic and demographic characteristics, such as household income, parent education, whether we are couples, or single parents, or where we are located, are not barriers to accessing electronic media (at least in Australia). Some of the statistics and trends include:

  •  As at June 2010, approximately 89% of Australians aged 14 years and over were estimated to have used the Internet as some point in their life (ACMA Communications Report 2009-2010):
  • Of those Australians using the Internet, the home and work environment remained the most common sites of Internet use, with 95% of Internet use being at home, and 46% of Internet use at work (ACMA 2010)
  • Teens and young adults are the heaviest (online more than 15 hours per week) Internet users
  • We are increasingly accessing the Internet via mobile devices
  • Technological advances make new technology affordable and available – and families adapt and transform these technologies to meet their own purposes
  • Technology inhabits numerous sites in the home and in multiple quantities, pervading every nook in the domestic realm

 It is clear that our homes are embedded with technological devices – from the humble TV to complex home theatres; a dinosaur desktop computer to small laptops and tablet technology. Communicating, research, shopping, banking, entertainment and distractions are a click or finger swipe away.

 What happens when we leave the comfort of home? In our everyday lives we have access to wireless mobility via smart phones and other portable devices. Is this having an impact on how we spend our time? Could it be changing our habits and behaviours when we take a family outing or holiday?

 The summer holiday period has recently come to an end – a good time to reflect on what we did, how we did it, and what we managed to live without! I was able to take a few days away in Queensland (before the floods) and spend a few glorious days on the beach at Labrador. I am one of those people that prefer to be as unencumbered as possible when at the beach – so you generally won’t be able to contact me via mobile phone when I am enjoying the sun, sand, and surf. However, I wonder if I am in a minority – many people appeared to have their phones with them at the beach. Given that our mobiles are multi-functional devices, this is not surprising – we can take a photo of a great moment, keep in touch with loved ones, and send our bosses emails too (although that idea tends to negate the concept of being on holiday). However, remaining ‘connected’ via mobile devices on family outings appears to affect the quality of our interactions.

 What I observed in this beach environment were groups of mothers with their toddlers arranging themselves to have instant access to their Iphones or Blackberries (or other smart phones). Some of the mum’s did not let go of their phones for the duration of their beach stay. They were either talking on their phone, texting, or scrolling through information. At no point did they enter the water, or appear to play with their toddlers – always maintaining one hand and full eye contact with their smart screens. One toddler begged her mother for attention while the mother kept one hand on the phone, eyes locked on the screen, and the other hand was waving beckoningly in the air as if to convey “see, I am paying attention…watch the hand.” There were other parents that were more involved with their children, engaging in water play, sandcastle building and the locating of hermit crabs. Mobile phones were not in-hand, but when a ringtone was heard, play would be paused for the call to be answered, until the call was over. Reports in the media are surfacing about the ‘chronic media distraction’ that parents are suffering from by being stuck in the Blacberry zone  or continuously plugged in. Whilst at the beach, are we searching, scrolling and sending rather than slipping, slopping and slapping?

 I also spent some time on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, meandering my way through the foreshore of Rye and Rosebud. I walked through the camping grounds and saw some amazing setups that were the campers’ equivalent of the Taj Mahal. Many sites had their own TVs (that were left on, while the campers were out – same media habits, different location); most had radios/CD players, some had DVD players, laptops and numerous portable digital devices. The comforts of home can still be enjoyed while camping. Many holiday destinations offer wi fi connectivity – so we never have to miss out on Facebook updates, emails or our favourite TV shows. The mobile phone offers a great alternative to the baby monitoring device (though our babies are now teens – and they do not always respond to our prompts for information or attention)!

A lot of interpersonal interaction is being displaced by instant messaging (IM) or phone text-messages (SMS). This means that our intimate family conversations have a digital afterlife – I do not know what the implications of this phenomenon might be – other than the prospect of having traces of past conversations cut and paste to create new meanings in different contexts. Will we censor ourselves more? This is an entirely different topic that I will pursue in a future blog. In the meantime, I simply wanted to share some of my observations (and some of the photographs I took associated with them). It would be great to hear what other people have seen, heard or experienced in relation to family interactions, technology and being on holiday.

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Author: connectedfamilybytes

I am PhD candidate researching how Australian (Melbourne) families interact with each other using the Internet, mobile phones and television. My purpose is to gain understanding of how these technologies are used in the home, and to investigate the dynamic interplay between family members' and technology use in their everyday activities. The focus is on exploring how technologies facilitate the ways in which family members communicate and spend time with each other. This project is supported by the Smart Services Co-operative Research Centre, and is being conducted through RMIT University’s Graduate School of Business and Law.

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