April 30, 2011

"One family. One room. Four screens. Four realities, basically."

"While it may look like some domestic version of 'The Matrix' — families sharing a common space, but plugged into entirely separate planes of existence through technology — a scene like this has become an increasingly familiar evening ritual. As a result, the American living room in 2011 can often seem less like an oasis for shared activity, even if that just means watching television together, than an entangled intersection of data traffic — everyone huddled in a cyber-cocoon."

It's a NYT culture article.

Is there a problem here? If a family of 4 were sitting around together reading books, it would seem better than if they were all watching the same show on TV. And yet, with books, you wouldn't be able to IM stuff to each other.

With either books or computers, if you're with other people, you can easily read something out loud to the people in the room and start a conversation. My grandfather used to do that with the newspaper, and I've come to think of it as a kind of proto-blogging.

These days, if I'm reading something and finding it interesting, I might blog it to the whole world and try to start a conversation on line, but we still interact in real space. Meade might read something out loud to me, and that might lead to a long conversation, or it might get one of my all-too-typical responses: 1. "IM me the link," 2. "I already blogged that." 3. "I'm blogging that right now."

32 comments:

KenK said...

I thought you weren't going to refer to the NYT as much since they've gone behind a paywall?

Ambrose said...

I remember a night in the 70s when I noticed that my mom, dad and I were all watching the same TV show (Kojak maybe) on three different sets (living room, kitchen, bedroom). I thought it was noteworthy but not Earth shaking. We are all still pretty well adjusted 40 years later.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Things were so much better in the good old days! You know, when kids spent all day outside, not even seeing their parents, and Dad hung out in his den while Mom did nothing but clean. Oh, and Dad made sure to blot out family time by bringing the NYT to the dinner table.

Rose said...

We totally do that now - my husband will call from work and say "email me that link, or I'm sending you a link." at home, he doesn't use the computer but the kids do, along with all the other electronics. My daughter will text me from her room "Is dinner ready?" - it's kinda funny and it beats yelling down the hall. There are times when she's texting with various questions about scheduling though, where I finally text back -" JUST CALL ME!"

I agree with you - it is very much like it was when I was growing up, and we were all immersed in books, except that now we often interact 'through the book.'

It actually makes us more in touch - and that includes the kids who are away at college.

Synova said...

I like the kids to be in the same room, or at least a public space in the house.

And although I'm upstairs and my husband is downstairs I like to be in the same room with him when we're playing a game together, which we're not atm, even if we can "send tells".

edutcher said...

In sociology class, I believe it was called an "empty shell" family.

At least it was in the 60s.

bwebster said...

[Eyes rolling.] Your point is spot on. The irony, of course, was that back when I was young and the whole family would gather around to watch it together, the hoi polloi disdainers wrung their hands about how families were been sucked into the "boob tube" instead of having witty, engaging conversations with one another.

Actually, in my family when I was a kid (~50 years ago), we'd have rather raucous, witty conversations around the dinner table, then we'd get up and go do homework, head out for the evening, curl up with a book, watch TV, etc.

As for our house now -- Sandra and I are more often than not side-by-side at the kitchen counter with our laptops and iPads. We recommend shows to each other, pass books back and forth, and generally enjoy being in each other's company. ..bruce..

LawGirl said...

It's different. Doesn't mean it's worse. Just different. People who think it's worse need to consider what life was really like before this.

I barely saw my parents when I was a teen in the late 80s and rarely communicated with them. If my car broke down in the country, I had to walk to the nearest farm and hope it was populated by decent people (thankfully, most were).

By contrast, I see my teen all the time and text/call him on his cell phone (and vice versa). We're closer than I was (am) with my parents and I have a hard time seeing that as a bad thing. A different thing? Yes. But, not bad.

LawGirl said...

Oh, and we still do lots of non-tech stuff together: sports, cycling, playing outdoors, shooting at the range, camping, etc. So, the "everyday" stuff has not overtaken that other stuff.

rhhardin said...

My father was a virtuoso reader of Winnie the Pooh.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

This is my experience as well.

Right now, I am on my computer in the office which is connected to the living room through opened glass french doors. My hubby is using his laptop, cruising the net while sitting on the couch and his feet on the ottoman coffee table.

We just emailed each other over the space of about 20 feet. How decadent. LOL

Often we will share 'articles' and stories that we are reading and quite often, we are in sync reading the same things at the same time on different sites. Other times one or the other of us will be ahead or behind.

I don't see a problem with this. The information stream is incredible and AWESOME.

m stone said...

"realities" is overused. Four diversions, maybe, and certainly not communication, which is a little alarming.

As other commenters point out, they could be reading books and find the same experience. Let's not elevate it too much, NYT.

DADvocate said...

A little reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451.

I thought of Fahrenheit 451 earlier this week in relation to the guy in England getting arrested for singing Kung Fu Fighting and the altering of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, i.e. changing "nigger" to "negro." We need to start memorizing songs, books, etc in order to pass on the originals to the next generation rather than the politically correct versions.

Penny said...

“ ‘Together time’ in the past was sometimes an effort, and a forced moment, where we would schedule it — ‘O.K., after dinner every night at 7 we’re going to watch this or play this,’ and the kids would say, ‘But Mom, I wanted to do this,’ ” Ms. Vavra recalled. “Now, it’s not forced at all. It just organically happens. Everyone gets to do their own thing, rather than, ‘Do we have to play Clue again?’ ”

Together time is an effort. Precisely why it's easier for families to fool themselves into thinking that playing with their electronics while in the same room is "together time".

Now it "organically happens"? This is the same out of whack thought process, going even further astray.

Then my favorite, "Everyone gets to do their own thing..", which is really the heart of the matter. EVERYBODY loves doing their own thing. That way we don't need to figure out how to compromise, or learn how to argue constructively, or get better at making our feelings understood by others.

This is tantamount to "taking your ball and going home". But as long as everybody's doing it...it must be a good thing now. Who knew?

Lem said...

I agree with Althouse.. In this "new reality" its possible that while twittering or something, one member of the house might get word of the impeding airstrike just in time to save himself or herself.

bagoh20 said...

4. "Shut up and take out the garbage."

chr1 said...

Well, I think it would be good to turn the mobile devices off, and gather around together as a family and mock the NY Times.

Alex said...

So what's wrong with technology bringing people together? It sure beats stupid board games. There's a certain price-less quality to being able to Wikipedia anything on a moment's notice.

bagoh20 said...

Yea, I think families are more in contact than ever now. When I was a kid my parents rarely knew where I was, and vise versa. We loved one another and always ate dinner together, but the rest of the time we had our own lives. I think that's just fine. There is too much self censorship with different generations together. You shouldn't spend to much time like that. We all need to get our freak on, and exploring the world through your own eyes is a big job that you need to start early.

al said...

We have five screens going right now. NASCAR on tv and 4 laptops in use. The dog is the only one without a computer. Fairly normal evening here.

Donald Douglas said...

That last paragraph's the clincher ... the Althouse/Meade household is the connected high-tech home of today, sharing all with the world. Small children would add an interesting dimension, but been there done that, I know ...

Ann Althouse said...

"That last paragraph's the clincher ... the Althouse/Meade household is the connected high-tech home of today, sharing all with the world. Small children would add an interesting dimension, but been there done that, I know ..."

I'm 60. It isn't a choice.

ic said...

an oasis for shared activity, even if that just means watching television together... and fight over the remote-control

E.M. Davis said...

This sums up the NYT fairly well.

Obama fellatio and concern trolling.

Erik said...

I'm reminded of Jane Austen novels, where everyone congregates in a single room and is busy doing their own thing: reading, needlepoint, writing letters, etc., all without paying much attention to each other unless engaging is a specific communal activity. It doesn't seem like things have changed at all to me.

traditionalguy said...

No computer time here last night. The super wife and I hosted the birthday party of a Daughter in law, complete with a 15 month old super-girl grand-daughter. We felt so good afterwards. Life goes on and it is good. Next week the Wife is going for her final interviews in Athens with the UGA officials for a new professorship that will allow her to teach 6 classes a year classes with 15 students in each, in place of her current load of 12 classes a year with 35 students in each....and a 40% pay raise. Like U of Wisconsin, the UGA sets its own rules and has its own endowment that makes it immune from budget cutting that the other State colleges now face. The wife is quite happy.

Class factotum said...

I'm reminded of Jane Austen novels, where everyone congregates in a single room and is busy doing their own thing: reading, needlepoint, writing letters, etc.

I thought about that, too! And remember, they did all that by candlelight, so by the time you were in your late 40s, you were stuck sitting there doing nothing because the candle isn't enough light for you.

madeleine said...

Yes. My favorite school-break time with my college age sons is when we're watching a game on TV and everyone has their laptop--sharing comments, sending links, playing bits of 1920's pre-jazz recordings. Just as cozy as cavemen at a campfire without all the mess and mosquito bites.

Freeman Hunt said...

My father was a virtuoso reader of Winnie the Pooh.

I aspire to being one of those.

I'm 60. It isn't a choice.

Foster kids!

Freeman Hunt said...

We all hang out in the same room. Sometimes there are two screens. As others have already written, there is always talking about what we're reading or looking at.

jonreece said...

Hm... sounds like my family, but with a core misunderstanding. Sure, all four of us are in the same room, and all four of us are staring at different screens. But there is a very high chance that two or three of us (rarely all four) are in the same game, playing with each other, sharing the same experience. Computer gaming with my wife is always fun, gaming with my kids is always a treat.

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