September 27, 2006 1:03 PM PDT

Study: Tech unites, not divides 'Family 2.0'

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The world might be increasingly reliant on high-tech gadgets and new-media information sources, but that has only strengthened traditional family values, a survey conducted by Yahoo and ad agency OMD concludes.

The study surveyed more than 4,500 families with Internet access, covering a total of 16 countries in the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe. Participants were asked questions on topics ranging from time spent together as a family to the number of gadgets owned by the household. The conclusion was simple: The information age has led to resurgence in focus on the importance of the nuclear family.

To some, however, that conclusion is anecdotal. No earlier survey was conducted to poll global attitudes about family cohesion before cell phones, PDAs and household Wi-Fi began to pop up in the mainstream. And the fact that no "non-online" families were surveyed creates a problem. "Without a control group, it's difficult to benchmark," said Jupiter Research analyst Emily Reilly.

Nevertheless, the survey found "wired" families do indeed abide by values that some might find surprisingly traditional. Seventy-three percent of respondents with children answered that they felt daily family dinners were important, and eight out of 10 adult respondents (including those who were unmarried and/or did not have children) felt that spending time with their families was enjoyable.

The survey also found that these domestic ideals face competition from the hectic, information-heavy outside world. However, thanks to tech-enabled multitasking--instant messaging while browsing the Web or text messaging on the commute to work--respondents put an average of 43 hours of daily activities, including sleeping, into the 24 physical hours of the day.

Consequently, the results showed many families with access to the Internet and mobile technology have used those same technologies to make their family ties tighter. Seventy percent of respondents said that technology helps them stay in touch with family, and over half of younger respondents (between the ages of 18 and 34) said it isn't just helpful, but necessary. A full quarter of respondents with children said that instant messaging--a mode of communication many think is restricted to the MySpace generation--helped them keep in touch with their kids.

But the notion that the "Family 2.0" is more cohesive than a less tech-savvy family is a largely qualitative conclusion, Reilly said. "Whether or not technology has created a more nuclear family, or a family with more traditional values, is probably almost impossible to determine without a deep, long-term ethnographic study," she said.

On the other hand, Reilly added, the Yahoo/OMD survey still has value as a portrait of the subset of society that considers cell phones, PCs and other Web-enabled devices to be an important part of their everyday lives.

After all, some interesting geographic oddities popped up in the results. Fifty-nine percent of Chinese survey respondents reported that they watch streaming online video, compared with 25 percent overall; digital video recorder use was most prevalent in the U.K. and Mexico; and less surprising, U.S. cell phone usage lags behind that of other developed countries.

"There's nothing wrong with pointing out the benefits of marketing to these people," she said. But using such results to say a Family 2.0 is more inclined to abide by traditional values, Reilly said, is too much of a leap.

A Yahoo representative did not return calls seeking for comment on the study.

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