Entertained: Together but Seperate

So we’re on vacation, enjoying our first two week stint at the beach ever. A great family time, right? Maybe. I’ve just realized this is also our first vacation where everyone, children included, has their choice of multiple personal entertainment devices. And that makes a difference.

Let’s take a brief inventory of people: three adult males, three adult females, one fourth-grade girl and one sixth-grade boy. Now the technology inventory: four smartphones, two feature phones with mp3 players, three e-readers, two tablet computers, two handheld game consoles, two handheld media players, and one netbook. I won’t count the “fixed” systems like three TVs, DVD player, HD cable receiver etc. For some quick math, that is eight people to entertain and sixteen devices to do it. A two to one ratio of devices to people.

Now for a snapshot during the evening… the kids are downstairs watching something on Disney television while the adults are upstairs watching something on network television. Seems normal right? Right, this happens all the time. But what else is going on at the same time?

Downstairs one of the kids is streaming a different Disney show on the netbook while the other plays a game on a portable game console. Upstairs one adult is using an e-reader, a second is reading news feeds on a tablet computer, while a third is catching up on social network status via a smartphone. Oh, and I’m writing this blog on a tablet computer and streaming a movie with my smartphone. And for something different, throw in another person reading an actual physical book. Now is this whole situation normal? It didn’t used to be.

Each person shifts focus on their own schedule, sometimes there is conversation and sometimes not, with more or less participation depending on the topic. I personally have no interest in which guy is going to get the girl on the reality show, so I’ll catch up on an action movie on my phone instead (with sound piped into my Bluetooth earpiece). Don’t like what is in the local paper, no big deal there is an app to get news from a global conglomerate portal. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all still aware of each other, but not necessarily at the same time. This is a far cry from the family of the Fifties sitting around the Philco standing radio sharing the same experience. This is different from the single television home of the Sixties or Seventies. Nor is it similar to a PC household of the Eighties or multi-television home of the Nineties. We’re into some “new reality” stuff now.

(As an aside, how can we afford all this junk in our down down down “new reality” economy?)

There is something different going on in our living room now. Yes, when I was a child, Grandma was sewing while watching gameshows and Dad was reading the newspaper while watching a baseball game, but the feeling is different now. We’re not as “present” while we’re engaged in our own personal entertainment streams.

Maybe I shouldn’t speak in the plural.

I’m not as “present” as I should be. And I don’t like that. I am very fond of my tablet but I’m more fond of my family, or so I thought. And what of the fondness of my family members for their devices? Or is it a fondness for personalized entertainment, the device being only a conduit for fulfillment? Either way, the result seems to be less than what was originally intended.

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