Monday, November 10, 2008

Sustaining Families

Today I want to draw sustainability in another direction. Towards technology. No, not technologies that save energy or clean the environment, but familiar technologies we use everyday. Computers, email, phones and the rest have not only sped up my life, they have also hugely enriched my family life. For a start, it means we can retain close connections when we are scattered across the globe – Auckland, Rome, New York, London. I can catch up on the latest family snaps, talk with any of them wherever I am (and on video if I’ve access to the right gear), get the short version in texts and the long version on email, and of course, there's YouTube and Skype. It means Ro can see Stella every day (well, three times a day actually!). We also have a family blog where we share what’s important to us without talking to the world.

I was pleased that my own family’s experience is in perfect sync with a recent report on families and their use of technology. Five years ago the growing power of computing and the Internet was regarded as a serious problem for sustaining the vitality and mutual support of families. The thinking was that unless a family was sitting around the same dinner table every night, it couldn’t be called a real family. What a difference a few years make! Experience has taught us that technology can nurture the intimacy of family connections and the support that goes with them. However, video games can be a diversion. The lockdown some kids get into when they are playing them is a temporary escape, not a life state.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has the numbers. 60 percent of adults said new technology did not affect the closeness of their families and 25 percent said it actually made them closer. And frankly, I believe that this 60 percent could all go into positive territory if they made some proactive changes on how they use and share their technological freedom. Even more significantly, people who felt that technology had changed their family life felt it had been for the good. That's the feeling we can use to make a direct link with sustainability.

I’ve written often about the idea that sustainability demands success across four bottom-lines: economic, environmental, cultural and social. These four are enmeshed with each other, so dealing with any one of them in isolation misses the point of how sustainability affects every aspect of our lives. So good to have confirmed that technology is proving to be a fantastic inspiration to the social and cultural dimensions of family life and our efforts to create a sustainable world.