Frederic Gonzalo’s Blog

How digital devices affect family togetherness

The inspiration for this blog post came during this past Holiday Season, while visiting my family in the greater Montreal area. Like all times when we meet together, there was lots of great food, good wine and drinks while kids were running around with their cousins, niece and nephews. This time around, though, even more than on previous occasions, we noticed a change, a subtle shift in how everyone was consuming entertainment over the few days together.

Except for some college and NFL football playing on TV in the background, all the kids and teenagers (OK, adults too!) were plugged into their electronic devices at some point: laptop, smartphone, iPad, etc. As Bob Dylan used to sing: Times, they are a changin’…

Well, turns out this is not something specific to our family, and you can probably relate to it as well. According to a Microsoft “Family Technology Survey”, conducted in November 2011, 43% of families said electronic devices such as computers and tablets were what brought them together for quality time, versus only 21% for the TV. The third most popular technology for family togetherness were smartphones, with 16%, which is not surprising given that you hardly fit more than 1-2 person behind the small screen.

Now, the jury is still out there as to if electronic devices really foster togetherness, or rather if they divide families, sending individuals into their own world, to consume their own entertainment. Oddly enough, another survey of US women about wireless technology found that “almost 45% of surveyed women believed wireless devices helped the family spend more time together”, according to CTIA.

Tablets rule!

Truth is, younger generations just don’t consume entertainment like their parents used to. This generation divide is quite obvious from the chart above, and it’s only going to get more acute as technologies evolve. The best example? Check out this video of a toddler trying to figure out how to read a magazine, when she is actually used to playing around with an iPad. Classic!

Apple’s iPad was the #1 sought-after gift of this past Holidays, for a second year in a row, and tablets from other companies are hot on its tail. According to a recent survey by Staples, there will be 82,1 million tablet users in the US alone, by 2015. In the meantime, in the US 9 out of 10 consumers have a cell phone, with 44% of them owning a smartphone. In other words, this is not a fad but a lasting and growing trend, so we might as well get used to it and make the most of it. Not just as consumers, but as marketers as well.

So what do you think? Electronic devices promote togetherness, or divide families? Do you have examples you can share?