December 10, 2006

Do Gadgets Break Up Families?

Last week, after mentioning to my mother that I had started occasionally writing for The Apple Blog, on top of contributions to Athletics Nation, Sactown Royalty, continued posting on and the usual work fare, she called, concerned that just maybe I was ignoring my wife, choosing instead to spend all my time online. Were we having enough time together, or were we drifting apart, more comfortable with the way we looked behind the glow of our respective laptop monitors than away from behind the keyboard?

Though I argued we were doing just fine, that our marriage was not in trouble due to excessive blogging, articles do occasionally come up that investigate the impact ubiquitous technology access has on families, whether they be spouse or child. The Wall Street Journal, in a prescient piece titled "Blackberry Orphans", wrote:
There is a new member of the family, and, like all new siblings, this one is getting a disproportionate amount of attention, resulting in jealousy, tantrums, even trips to the therapist. It's the BlackBerry.

The article blames the Blackberry for parents lying to children, distracting them while driving, and distracting attention from kids who just may deserve it more. But is the Blackberry that much worse than the advent of the cellphone, or the standard telephone or television before it? Does increased convenience and an enhanced feature set that makes people want to use a device more spell impending doom and the end of humanity as we know it?

Probably not. Though I have my Blackberry nearby at all times, and watch for the green light to glow red - signaling a new message has arrived - the device has less chance of making me avoid feeding the dog or playing cards with my wife than prime-time TV. Its interruptions typically last a minute or two instead of 30 to 60, and the more work I do on the Blackberry at home, the less time, in theory, I need to spend in the office doing the same tasks.

While some will undoubtedly take device usage to the extreme, as people do with just about everything, I am not too concerned. I also don't believe that the occasional post on a Macintosh or sports blog makes me too much closer to receiving divorce papers. But let me first ask my wife to close her laptop, and see if she agrees.