In the same room, but not together

I recently confessed a whole set of things that I’ve noticed myself doing within a work context that are, quite frankly, rude.

Jimmy and Granddad Twittering on the BlackBerryAnother day, another conference call, another set of instant messages, some SMS messages and lots of rudeness.

I would like to confess that today I have:

  • Joined a conference call without introducing myself.

At work is one thing – but what about at home!

Today I was interested to read an article in the New York Times titled – Quality Time, Redefined. This article starts by describing a scene that could, on many occasions be my house:

Ms. Vavra, a cosmetics industry executive in Manhattan, looked up from her iPad, where she was catching up on the latest spring looks at, and noticed that her husband, Michael Combs, was transfixed, streaming the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament on his laptop. Their son, Tom, 8, was absorbed by the Wii game Mario Kart on the widescreen television. Their daughter, Eve, 10, was fiddling with a game app called the Love Calculator on an iPod Touch. “The family was in the same room, but not together,” Ms. Vavra recalled.

The sites and the technology is generally different, but the comment “The family was in the same room, but not together” certainly rings true.

At a quick count there are at least 12 different screens in the household – and there’s only 4 of us. There are occasions when each of us has retreated to one or more of our screens and our level of interaction with the rest of the family is minimal. We might be physically in the same place, but our heads are in completely different places.

It’s a really interesting article with thoughts from celebrities, academics and medics alike:

Joanne Cantor, a professor emerita and a director of the Center for Communication Research at the University of Wisconsin, suggests it’s almost as if adults and older children are reverting to a form of “parallel play,” the developmental stage when toddlers sit beside each other in silence, playing with toys of their own. Even in the very recent past, when family members would be watching TV together, she said, “We all had conversations during the commercials, even if it was just to say, ‘Wasn’t that stupid?’ ”

It’s not all doom and gloom though, there are lots of thoughts on how this type of interaction might be a good thing.

Here’s some of our experiences, good and bad.

  • We have texted the children to get them to come down from their rooms for dinner. It’s a whole load easier than shouting around the house trying to communicate through the various other noise distractions.
  • On a number of occasions we have Skyped our son (while he’s away at University) from a laptop in the kitchen. We place the laptop in a corner where he used to sit while we made dinner. It’s not a full intensive face-to-face conversation, it makes the chatting much easier.
  • I have IMed one or other member of the family, when they were in the same room, in order to get their clear attention.
  • On a couple of occasions we have missed phone calls because we were each so deeply engaged in our thing that we hoped someone else would answer it.
  • We quite regularly participate in “have you seen this” conversations around one or other screen. This includes discussing and parallel commenting on Facebook.

Like many of these things the challenge is to keep the technology in balance. We don’t allow any technology at the dinner table and, whenever possible, have dinner together. Only last night we decided to watch a movie together and it felt great.It took us ages to agree what the movie was, and we streamed it, but we all watched the same movie.

I still think, though, that it’s going to become a huge issue for society to deal with as people try to come to terms with a situation they haven’t been trained for. One of the biggest challenges is going to be addiction including Information Addiction.

I’m interested to know what others do. Do you have some rules that help you to keep things in check?

2 thoughts on “In the same room, but not together”

  1. Good post Graham. I think there are many households like this now, although I can honestly say that I have never texted my kids to come for tea. 🙂

    We too have rules of always eating at the table, no tech at the table and every Saturday night is family TV night, whether that be a movie or with 3 girls to 1 bloke in our house, quite often X Factor, BGT or something similar. It’s time shared together as a family though where we can have a laugh, which it what is important and what is becoming less common in family units.


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