Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Web Secret #157: Hyper Wired

We are in the midst of a profound cultural shift - we are becoming hyper wired.

60 percent of American families with children own two or more computers, and more than 60 percent of those have either a wired or wireless network to connect to the Internet, according to studies by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

A third of all Americans log on from home multiple times a day, nearly twice the number that did so in 2004.

On top of that, iPads have inundated homes, as have fast-downloading smartphones. Media companies are jumping on board to make sure their content is available at any time, on any device.

According to a recent New York Times article, today's hyper wired family still gathers in the living room after dinner. But Mom is looking up ideas for a family vacation on her iPad. Dad is streaming the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament on his laptop. Their son is absorbed by Wii on a widescreen TV. Their daughter is playing a game app on an iPod Touch.

The family is in the same room, but not together.

Is this an ominous domestic version of “The Matrix” — families sharing a common space, but plugged into entirely separate planes of existence through technology?

Certainly, there are many experts who are proponents of that view.

Then again, the appearance of new home media always causes an outcry.

The emergence of television led to decades of hand-wringing over the specter of American families transformed into sitcom-addicted zombies.

Interestingly, a 2009 survey of 4,000 people by a Canadian market research company indicated that people believe technology is bringing the family together, not pulling it apart.

This might be even truer in households nowadays, when the proliferation of devices and media options makes it easier for family members to pursue their interests online while seated in the same room.

Behavior inside a cyber-cocoon can be surprisingly interactive. “There’s a lot of, ‘Hey, look at this!’ ‘Let’s plan our trip to Vegas!’ ” he said. “People get up from their laptops, come together on one screen: ‘Hey, look what I just found, isn’t this weird?’ It isn’t the image of one person huddled in isolation with their screen.”

And it might be safer. “when everyone is doing their digital thing out in the open,...the total death of privacy is a parental advantage.” What are your kids doing? Just check the far corners of your living room. They're doing homework online or poking friends on Facebook. They're iChatting with friends, while Mom and Dad catch up on work e-mail.

The reality is, once you let the genie out of the bottle, you cannot go back. The hyper wired world is expanding and here to stay.

Welcome to the new "quality time" circa 2011.

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