Could it be that technology isn’t so dehumanizing after all?
A new study has found that the Internet and cell phones have earned themselves a spot at the family hearth, as married couples with children are more likely to own and use those technologies than other household types.
The research (PDF) from the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that parents routinely use cell phones to check in with their children and spouses, and the Internet has become a source of social interaction within the home.
“Some analysts have worried that new technologies hurt family togetherness, but we see that technology allows for new kinds of connectedness built around cell phones and the internet,” Tracy Kennedy, author the report, ‘Networked Families,’ said in a statement.
Indeed, amid all the frothy hype about Web 2.0 applications forging new and meaningful connections between people, the hundreds of ‘friends’ people amass on sites like Facebook and MySpace can make for an easy target for skeptics who question just how social the social Web is.
But the Pew survey found that people who are described as “intense” Internet users, meaning that they go online several times a day, are no less likely to socialize than non-Internet users.
Pew polled 2,252 adults for the study. That the rate of cell phone and Internet usage was highest among those in nuclear families led the researchers to conclude that new technologies are becoming integral to the way parents and children communicate with each other.
“Families are becoming networks,” said Barry Wellman, a professor at the University of Toronto and an author of the study. “Each household member can be her own communications hub and that changes things inside and outside the household.”
A full quarter of the respondents said their families are closer today than they were growing up thanks to technology, compared to 11 percent who said their families are less close.
The survey found that 66 percent of nuclear-family households have a high-speed Internet connection, compared to a national average of 52 percent.
A majority of the respondents who live with a spouse and at least one child said they routinely spend time online with a family member, highlighting the collaborative value of the Internet.
“A lot of families treat the internet as a place for shared experiences,” said Kennedy. “They don’t just withdraw from the family to their own computer for private screen time. They often say, ‘Hey — look at this!’ to others in the household.”
The survey also found that 89 percent of nuclear-family households own more than one cell phone, with nearly half claiming to own at least three devices.
Forty-two percent of parents said they use their cell phones to check in with their children every day, and nearly two thirds of couples where both partners own a cell phone use the devices daily to coordinate schedules.
“Family members touch base with each other frequently with their cell phones, and they use those phones to coordinate family life on the fly during their busy lives,” Kennedy said.