Union University
Union University Dept of Language


Re[Dis]Connecting American Life

Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

October 21, 2008 - According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the rise in both the acquisition and use of various kind of technologies in American households has not resulted in the dissolution of the family. Thus, contrary to the archaic anxieties of those technological naysayers, “Technology is enabling new forms of family connectedness that revolve around remote cell phone interactions and communal internet experiences.”

Studies with such remarkable findings as this one ought to give technological curmudgeons pause. Alas! It doesn’t. The details, as they say, are where the devil dwells.

Consider, for example, the study’s conclusion: “Despite fears that technology use might pull families apart, American families still lead connected lives.” Whatever “fears” one might have about the negative impact that technology use might have on family life, the idea that technology use might lead to a lack of “connectedness” (as this conclusion suggests) is not one of them. The very idea of “connectedness” is one that by its nature is rooted in contemporary technological means of communication (e.g., the Internet, cell phones). Before the advent of such devices, no one ever thought about human relationships in terms of “connectivity.” Only after the proliferation and widespread use of such technology were we forced to reconfigure the manner in which we found ourselves relating to those who once were close, but now seemed so far away.

The conclusion of this study presumes that keeping families intact is primarily a matter of connectedness. As long as families stay “connected” or “lead connected lives,” then contrary to the fears of the technological naysayers, technology use does not “pull families apart.”

But is “connectedness” really the issue? To a certain extent the findings of this study should not be surprising at all. After all, we live in an era of unprecedented connectedness. Never before in human history have more people been “connected.” So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that a survey of American families would find that the vast majority of them feel more “connected” as a result of the technological gadgets that “bind” their otherwise alienated lives together.

The study’s concluding paragraph is perplexingly optimistic. “Despite fears that many Americans are isolated from family members, because of separate agendas and immersive personal internet and cell phones, most families are together at night. Their heavy home internet use suggests that many households are hubs of personal communication networks, as people log on individually to email, IM, post on social networking sites and chat. They are both together with their families and connecting outward to friends and relatives elsewhere. They are neither isolated individuals nor Dick and Jane’s traditional family. Rather, their households are active sites of the interplay of individual activity and family togetherness.”

The new American family – an “active site[!] of the interplay of individual activity and family togetherness” (the latter being code for “within relative spatial proximity of one another”)! One can virtually feel the warmth of the hearth in this description.