Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Evolution of Tech at Family Gatherings: Decade Observations

Evolution of Tech at Family Gatherings: Decade Observations
by Gary Feltman

As we were participating in the New Year’s countdown, my daughter had her face buried in her iPod, and was not counting down with us. Within this 10-second timeframe, my wife and I together instinctively attempted to rip the iPod out of her hands. The response was a look of aggravation and fear, as she gripped her iPod and would not allow the device to be taken. Through this 2-second interaction, I remembered that she had been looking forward to watching December change to January, and 11:59-12:00, on the iPod.

This year, my daughter stayed  awake for the New Year’s Countdown for the first time in her life. During the hours leading up to this moment, my daughter had been creating on Minecraft, building a 3 floor castle with a garden, pool, chickens, and amongst other novelties. I would consider creating on Minecraft being more productive than watching countdowns and performances on television; so I was okay with that. 

Within that 10 second countdown, I briefly got upset, yet immediately gained quick understanding of her first-time perspective and experience of celebrating New Year’s eve, while using and watching her device. I realized that this device is a part of her life, and she has grown up observing others having their faces buried in their devices. Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure; but it is what it is.

When I recall about 8-10 years ago (about 2004, give or take a couple years) at family events, cell phones were just beginning to become popular. Almost everybody had a cell phone, but they weren’t the fancy smart phones with internet and multiple apps; they were flip phones used mostly for the purpose of calling and texting others. One Thanksgiving conversation I recall was when someone at the table asked what something meant, and I responded “Google it.” The response from the family member was “Google it, that’s the new term for these kids.” Then the conversation continued to how everybody just “Googles” everything, followed by a 10-minute explanation of what happens when you forgett to include an attachment and how Googling directions might not always be accurate.

Then about 5-7 years ago, tech use seemed to be a “free-for-all” at family events, where everybody just did what they wanted and used their devices however and whenever they pleased, no matter what the setting. The informal rules were being created and learned. Taking photos was a new experience. The photos were poor quality, and sharing was neither fun, purposeful, or convenient. The family discussions were about whether or not to purchase a cell phone, iPod, or other tech device. If the children owned one, they would talk about it, and take good care of it. If the children didn’t own one, they may have expressed wanting a device as a gift in the near future.

Going about 3-4 years back there seemed to be a general understanding of cell phone etiquette at the dinner table, where people shouldn’t check their phones, text, or talk at the table. There were no well-known written rules of cell phone or technology etiquette. Nobody announced or proclaimed the rules with the exception of the occasional parent explaining to their kids to put the phone away. Another exception might have been the grandmother who just got her new cell phone, and decides to answer it at the table and speak loudly, because the unwritten rules were not explained, and all the younger family members took time to explain and demonstrate how to answer calls, make calls, or introduce to the concept of texting.

Things have even changed from 1-2 years ago, where people seemed to have a good understanding of the rules and made an honest effort to either leave their cell phones in the cars, or simply put them away, not being visible to others until the family events were over. The exception to this may have been someone pulling out their new iPad that they received as a gift, or to exchange a phone number or refer back to something. Again, the younger generation would demonstrate the various things to do with tablet technologies; the basics, for example, weather, Facetime, Skype, basic games, or other common apps. However during this time, people were not comfortable enough with the technology yet, at least not enough to just pass devices around and let others use them. The device seemed to just be a really neat novelty technology toy that was pulled out briefly for demonstration. During this time frame, most realized that the procedure for proper etiquette when using a cell phone was to excuse themselves from the festivities and briefly exit the room.  When demonstrations or communications were finished, the devices are put away while everybody made an effort to socialize.

So what’s it like today? I observe nearly every family member young and old has one form of device, whether connected to wi-fi or not. Family members do not need to count on a household wi-fi connection, because everybody brings their own. People are not shy to pull out their devices, discuss the latest apps, play similar games on devices at the same time while discussing tech objectives and achievements and still holding relevant conversations. The explanation of the meaning and use of a hashtag seems to be fading as everybody is gaining understanding. The latest experience is family members taking pictures at the events and immediately sharing on social media with hash tags and tagging. Meanwhile everybody involved grabs their device and continues interacting online by liking, sharing, and commenting in the online world.

All this happens while everybody is physically in the same room. It even seems as if the main topic of conversation at these family gatherings are family member’s activity on Facebook throughout the year. It seems everybody has a working memory and understanding of everybody’s Facebook activity for the past year, even though they may not have interacted online, then everybody proceeds to discuss these events. Not only that, but everybody has their devices in hands showing photos of family or vacations.

These are simply my observations over the years. The memories mostly stem from holiday gatherings, but also just other formal or informal family meetings. I wonder if others have observed similar experiences. It almost seems as if devices have worked their way into family gatherings, being conversation starters in one form or another, and in some cases being the central point of interaction or discussion. For example, people attempt to take group pictures and share them with hashtags to participate in commercial competitions online. I’m sure at one point or another, someone has used a device to quietly communicate with someone else in the same room, because communicating said topic might not be appropriate.

I wonder how this will evolve through the next ten years.

Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.
Twitter: @garyfeltman