By Teresa Tomeo
First it was e-mail. Then it was the development of social gathering sites that took off as the latest and greatest way to keep in touch and keep everyone updated on everything or anything going on in our lives. Now add to the list texting and twittering. All of these methods supposedly are designed to bring people closer together.That might have been the original intention, but unfortunately, it's having just the opposite impact on family life. Even researchers are expressing concerns about the growing impact of this type of media influence.
The Annenberg Center for Digital Future at the University of Southern California just released a sobering report showing that nearly 30 percent of Americans interviewed in 2008 say they have been spending less time with loved ones. That figure is three times higher than the eleven percent who expressed the same concern when questioned about computer usage in 2006.
In an Associated Press report, Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Institute explained that people are admitting they spend less time in their households with family, and researchers have seen a major spike in the usage of social gathering sites, with 200 million users on Facebook, double the number from last year. He added that more time on Facebook and less face-to-face time can't exactly spell good news for today's already media-saturated families.
"Ultimately it leads to less cohesive and less communicative families," Gilbert said.
Gilbert's explanation is right on target. The Internet requires more attention and involvement as opposed to watching television, which also could be adding to the problem. The Internet is different from the television set, which parents and children can watch together. Not that Gilbert is pushing for more couch potatoes, but he does have a point when it comes to the mouse vs. the remote. Being online is much more "one-on-one." Gilbert says people are concerned about the increased computer time, especially among kids and teens, but the hours spent in front of the screen keep going up and quality time in the home keeps going down.
Now, it takes a lot to shock or surprise me given the amount of research I do on media influence. But I was stunned when I actually saw the breakdown on the number of hours Americans spend with their relatives in direct interaction.
In 2000, the Annenberg report found we had about 26 hours a month of shared family time. Last year that number dipped to 18 hours, a decrease of about 30 percent. That's less than a few hours a week in actual family contact!
Dad, Mom and Junior may all be living under the same roof, but inside the house, Junior is upstairs on MySpace, Mom is doing some research online or catching up on e-mails, and Dad is busy with the Blackberry. They are together in one location but in many ways alone. How sad.
I had to read that part of the report three times to make sure the numbers were correct. And we wonder why there are so many domestic problems today?
Not only are we spending less time with the most important people in our lives, but we are allowing ourselves to get sucked into who knows what online. No matter how helpful the Internet can be at times, it comes with a laundry list of problems and can never replace real relationships.
We definitely need to re-connect but not online. This calls for a lot less Facebook and a lot more face-to-face time with family and close friends.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.
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