But what is ‘it’?
The radio, the television, and the internet all have the same fundamental characteristic; they have each redefined the home, and most aspects of life, after their arrival in the commercial sphere.
The most obvious example of how each new technology has altered the way in which we live our lives at home is something you might not think about; the arrangement of the living room, and its furniture.
For example, before the radio, living rooms were designed so that the members of the household would actually look at each, and thus speak to one another, as was the original purpose of the ‘living room’. There were also other factors to consider, such as the fireplace, and proximity to doors and such.
The most important thing about this arrangement of living space of the pre-1920s, is that technology (almost nearly), had no role in the function of that room. It also had no power over how the members of the household, or their guests, interacted with each other.
We then had the invention of the radio in the 1920s, which saw people gathered around together as had been in previous decades; but no longer talking.
Thus began the change in family dynamics, as a result of technology.
Television in the 1950s saw an even more extreme version of this disconnect from family discussion to family ‘digestion’(Feldman, Eisenberg, Neumark-Sztainer, & Story, 2007). The physical furniture was altered to more comfortably include the television into the home.
Now obviously this is not to say that these media forms have all been horrible blights upon society that we should fear and shirk from. On the contrary the conversation that I had with Leone Cordingley, the 74-year-old retiree, detailed her many happy memories of television, and more specifically, memories of television with her family.
These media technologies have indeed changed the dynamics of our living rooms and familial relationships, but not necessarily for the worse.
This is how I came to speaking to Leone about today’s impingement media form; the internet.
Leone lives in a retirement village, where maybe 10 to 15 of the 152 homes have a computer and access to the internet. Leone’s is one of them. Connected since 2006 Leone has steadily (with the help of her children and grandchildren) taught herself the in’s and out’s of the digital world, to the point that it is now a daily use for her.
“I just wanted a tool for current affairs and opinions. I use it to access volunteer work, spreadsheets, reports and writing.”
Leone Cordingley is only one of the increasing number of retirees who are becoming more and more confident with online life. Now, Leone has a few fingers in different jars, so the internet has become her space for emailing members of her various organisations, and keeping up with the daily news, as well as the space to settle any disagreement of opinion between her and her husband, Les.
“It satisfies our curiosity about a lot of things.” Leone said eloquently.
But has the internet really changed her household as its predecessors once did?
Leone doesn’t think so.
“No. It hasn’t changed it as much as TV.”
However, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed the homes of other retirees. There are many studies that claim that retirees who use the internet are 1/3 less likely to experience depression as their non-connected counterparts. The studies attribute these findings to a lack of communication and connectivity with family members through the internet.
Leone understands this lack of will to connect to the internet by the vast majority of her neighbours. “For most older people it gets too hard and they don’t want a challenge.”
The fact that there is no WI-FI signal in the entire area, let alone the NBN, furthers this distance between the elderly residents and the realm of the internet.
So it seems that connectivity, and a bit of bravery, is needed before anything can really be said on the internet’s ability to change the household practices of retirees.
Hopefully one day I’ll see Leone’s blog up here as well, after all:
“I like the challenge.”
Feldman, S., Eisenberg, M., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Story, M. (2007). Associations between Watching TV during Family Meals and Dietary Intake Among Adolescents. Journal Of Nutrition Education And Behavior, 39(5), 257-263. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2007.04.181