Saturday, November 08, 2008

Internet - keeping families together

Internet, cell phones bring families together, study finds
see also Pew Internet Report

Despite some widely reported theories that Internet use encourages isolation and creates wedges between family members, a study released yesterday found that Internet and cell phone technologies are more likely to bring family members together.

About 47% of 2,252 respondents to the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey (download PDF) reported that such technologies are increasing the quality of communications within households, and 53% said they are bolstering the quality of communications among family members living apart.

Previous research from Pew has found that search is closing in on e-mail as the most popular activity for online users. It has also found that record numbers of people are using the Web use to find political information this year.

The latest survey found that households of married couples with children are using cell phones to connect and coordinate their lives. Pew said they're using computers to come together at home for "shared moments of exploration and entertainment." Such households had the highest levels of Internet and cell phone usage, according to the survey.

"This new connectedness via cell phone and screen-sharing is correlated with some benefits for family life," the study found. "Those with the most technology are more likely to share moments with family members while they are online and to exchange some kinds of family communications such as checking in with other family members and coordinating activities."

The story also found that the more technology in a household, the better the communication among family members. For example, the study found that in 70% of couples who own cell phones, people contact each other at least once a day just to say hello or chat, compared to 54% of couples with one or no cell phone. In addition, 42% of parents contact their children daily using a cell phone, while 35% do so using a land-line telephone.

Meanwhile, 52% of Internet users who live with a spouse and one or more children go online with another person multiple times a week, Pew found. Another 34% go online with family members at least occasionally, the study said.

The study debunked the theory that technology often creates isolation among family members. In fact, 25% of the respondents said that access to the Internet and cell phones has made their families closer, while only 11% said that such technologies have isolated family members. About 60% of adults said technology has not affected the relationships of family members at all.

The study did note that technology in many cases has increased working hours, keeping family members physically apart for longer periods.

"Those with multiple communication devices are somewhat less likely to eat dinner with other household members and somewhat less likely to report high levels of satisfaction with their family and leisure time than are families with lower levels of technology ownership," according to the study

The survey also found that the Internet has affected family television viewing habits -- one-fourth of respondents reported that they are watching less TV.

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