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New research says technology strengthens (miserable) families

Pew Internet and American Life Project says gadgets improve family life, but the researchers apparently had to ignore some of their data to come to that conclusion.

It's a wonderful headline for a wonderful life: "Technology found to strengthen U.S. families."

Technology doesn't allow people to ignore their parents, siblings and pet rats and disappear into their own hugely self-referential, self-reverential world, otherwise known as Facebook.

No, technology promotes family love.

So, at least, say the headlines from a survey published by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, an organization that "creates and funds academic-quality research."

Because life and love interest me greatly I decided to look at the report, which was prepared by two researchers from Pew and two from the University of Toronto.

Here is the good news: "American spouses often go their separate ways during the day, but remain connected by cell phones and, to some extent, Internet communications. When they return home they often have shared moments of exploration and entertainment on the Internet."

Thankfully, despite the immeasurably positive headlines this report has already enjoyed, it doesn't actually avoid honesty. The next paragraph is headlined: "Busy and tech-using families are less likely to share meals and less likely to report satisfaction with their leisure time."

But let's not think about that for now. Let's stick with the positives. Thirty-three percent of those Internet users surveyed said that the Web had improved their connection with friends "a lot." Meanwhile, only 23 percent said it had increased the quality of communication with family members with a similar intensity.

Ah, well, hmm. So where do headlines such as "Technology found to strengthen U.S. families" come from?

They don't seem to come from the 11 percent who said that the Internet has increased the amount of time they spend working at the office. Or the 19 percent who said it made them spend more time working at home.

Here it is. Barry Wellman, one of the research team and a sociology professor at the University of Toronto said: "There had been fears that the Internet had been taking people away from each other. We found just the opposite." Indeed, the report claims that a majority of adults said that technology allows their family to be as close or closer than they experienced in their own families when they were growing up.

"And here's the family before the cell phone was invented." CC Nathanus

I can hear you cheering. You are cheering very loudly. But wait, I have just rummaged to Part 5 of the Report, where it says quite clearly that 60 percent of respondents actually thought that cell phones and the Internet "hadn't made much difference" in bringing their families closer together. Only 25 percent actually said it had made relations better.

Perhaps sociologists have a different interpretation of "just the opposite"

What would you like to conclude from all this? Here's an entirely unscientific attempt.

Life is harder. Employers are using technology to make you work harder. You feel like you don't see your families as much. You feel that sometimes the only way you can connect to them is with an amusing e-mail ("Hey, did you see this funny picture of the elephant kissing a baboon?"), a text or a quick phone call as both you and they are on their way to somewhere else. Life has changed. And technology is perhaps the only thing that keeps families from going just very slightly nuts.

The survey, which was very light on single-parent respondents, concluded that married families with children are far greater users of technology than either single-person households or married people without children. But aren't single-person households now the majority in America?

Oh, I don't know. Research is such a difficult thing to interpret. So I thought I'd go check out divorce rates. Seems like they're pretty steady.

So perhaps this might be evidence that technology is actually keeping families together. How are things in your family?

By the way, I forgot to tell you how they did this research. On the phone, naturally.