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Home & Household

Post new topic   Reply to topic    CITASA Forums Forum Index -> RT session #1 Social implications of ubiquitous computing
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Joined: 07 Aug 2006
Posts: 19
Location: University of Toronto

PostPosted: Wed Aug 09, 2006 5:15 am    Post subject: Home & Household Reply with quote

You might have already read about and perhaps commented on the recent media release from Statistics Canada “The Internet and the way we spend our time” on the AoIR list. If you haven’t, here is a link to Statistics Canada’s - The Daily media release:

There’s also a link to a media article at “Heavy Internet users spend less time with family, friends: Statistics Canada” By Michelle Mcquigge

In a nutshell, the stats can data show that heavy internet users spend less time on domestic chores, child care and social activities. A few things came to mind when reading these articles, and some of these were mentioned on the AoIR list as well. If we’re going to talk about social implications, then we need to identify the problem, and to identify the problem we have to be able to measure it and its effects. With the pervasiveness of the internet in our daily lives – for work, education, leisure and social – many of us use the internet frequently, if not ‘all the time’ and ‘always on’. If you’ve looked at the articles, you’ll notice the usage of ‘heavy’ user. They define heavy user as ‘those who spent more than an hour on the Internet during the day’. Is this an adequate number given the time people spend online for various tasks? How can we measure what a heavy user really is?

Also, you’ll notice the canoe article spins the data in a somewhat negative light: “Canadians who spend more time online are more likely to neglect family and real-life friends”. In some ways, I’m not surprised by the initial headline, particularly people spending less time on household chores (I believe there are dishes in my sink, and yet here I am online…), but can we really argue that the internet is ‘causing’ people to neglect friends, family, home & household? In my own research I’ve found that the internet helps people manage and negotiate the hectic routines and daily demands of work, education, leisure and social. Without email for example, some people wouldn’t be able to schedule the church social, weekly hockey night at the pub, or the Tuesday Tennis match as easily if at all– these things often happen between the cracks and crevices of the day/night chaos. One of the questions on the GSS asks “Compared to five years ago, do you feel more rushed, about the same or less rushed?”. It would be interesting to see these responses, in addition to the question “on which main activity would you choose to spend more time if you could?” (with a list that follows).

Is the internet truly responsible for the decline in domestic responsibilities and f2f contact? Or, is it helping people manage and schedule their lives, and complimenting their social relationships? What a minute, haven’t we had this discussion? Yes, we have and numerous researchers have shown previously that the internet doesn’t replace f2f but enhances it. Is this still the case? Is this something that sociologists need to revisit? Here’s some food for thought – a snipit from The Daily: “Although Internet users spent less time with others generally, they identified having about the same number of close relationships with people outside the household as non-users.” All is not lost apparently for relationships outside the home. So what’s really happening in the home and household? Only research will tell…

It seems to me that we often examine and explain data in a way that situates something as either good or bad, an affordance or constraint. Can we move to a framework that perhaps moves beyond these dichotomies and looks at the context and experiences of people’s lives – particularly in the home/household? There seems to be an interchanging of tasks, tools and media that compliment and work with each other. Again, in my own research I see that people do spend time online by themselves, but they also spend time ‘showing and sharing’ things they find online with their family members, whether it be classic cars, a news headline in India, local real estate, travel getaways to exotic places or catching the latest update of The Amazing Race. It’s not always solitary and it’s not always ‘selfish-surfing’.

Much can be said about the social implications of ubiquitous computing, but we can’t forget the ‘social’ – the context and the things around us (the sociology?) of our experiences with technology, and we can’t forget the ‘social’ interaction both between people and between people and technology. I am sure that we will have much to talk about, as CITASA often brings different tenets of sociological research (and often other disciplines) together for rich discussion.

I look forward to hearing about other people’s research interests and data in this area. I hope others will be open to posting papers to the wiki and citasa site.
See you Thursday!

Tracy Kennedy
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Joanna Robinson

Joined: 10 Aug 2006
Posts: 8
Location: Brock University

PostPosted: Thu Aug 10, 2006 3:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some very interesting thoughts, thanks Tracy.

A couple of comments...

I think you are definetely right, this is much more complex than people becoming addicted to the internet and choosing online activity over their offline interpersonal relationships. (This kind of moral panic should be familiar to anyone who remembers television corrupting the minds of youth and breaking down families...) This whole approach suggests that high internet use is inherently negative, and isolated to me....sounds familiar and similar to much of media effects and moral panic discourse over the years!

I think it is just that the internet can be very very appealing, but if people are choosing to shorten the time they spend on other things, that doesn't make the internet responsible, the people are responsible for their actions.
People possess agency(!!), and can decide the level of their use and the type of their use. The manner in which they use computing will also define it to some extent for their children, who learn from watching their interaction with computers!

Moreover, being online more does not neccessarily mean spending less time with other people or neglecting family and friend relationships in a person's everyday life. These things may just come about differently...

This topic also reminds me of your research on the location (and use) of the computer in the household. I think that this plays a significant role in how the computer is used and how the technology is defined or domesticated.

For example...
With my desktop computer in the basement area of the house, it's great for me to hide away and get work done. But it's not conducive to sharing my experience with others, as it would be in another part of the home, or if I had a laptop with wireless on the go.

Yes, I am one of those basement computer geeks.
However, I don't really fit the stereotype either...friends visit me in my basemet regularly, and I often show them interesting things on my computer. Often they are things related to offline life also (hard to make a division in some things, but the example that comes to mind is looking at holiday photos on together!).
I also emerge from the basement cave and interact with real people in the real world quite often! Wink

Also, using web messaging has helped me to keep in touch with many of my friends who I only get to see once or twice a year at conferences, or even less in the case of my family back in Australia. This has most definetely strengthened and helped me to maintain my social ties with them.

I still go places and have "real" friends as well as my friends I haven't met in the flesh. I have very rewarding friendships with the latter, they are just different from face to face friends. It doesn't make them of any lesser value!

P.S.: It's fun participating in the conference online. Wish I could be there this year! Hope everyone has a great time.
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