Friday, January 26, 2007

Are PC commitment ceremonies in our future?

At face value, appropriate response to the following news seems to be a somber shake of the head: 65% of Americans recently surveyed say they spend more time with their personal computers than they spend with their significant others. What a sad commentary on the state of our society and our marriages, yes?

Not so fast. The vision the stat gives me is of people holed up alone in their dens for the hours between work and bed. But though it is quite possible that, at least on weekdays, I spend more time on the couch with my laptop than with my husband, there is no holing up in a den at our house. What does spending more time with a PC than a partner really mean?

PCs are, for many people, an invaluable tool for their jobs. People may spend the eight to ten hours of their work day largely tied to a desk, which generally also means they are tied to a computer. That in itself may seem like a sad fate, one that keeps the nation's occupational therapists occupied. Do we lament the fact that people may spend more waking hours at their jobs than at home? Well, maybe. But the growing number of American work hours is a larger problem, and the number of work hours spent with a PC is merely a byproduct of that.

When it comes to ranking the relative importance of ones spouse and PC, it seems the real question is, how much of your free time is spent with each? And is time with your PC taking away from time with your spouse? At our house, my husband brings his work laptop home most evenings, so it is not uncommon to find my husband and I sitting side by side on the couch, each working or playing on our own computer. Sometimes this is taking away from conversation; sometimes it is contributing to it. Sometimes it is not much different than sitting together while watching television or a movie. Sometimes it is more like sitting together while each of us is lost in a different book. And when we are not together, sometimes our computers keep us connected where we otherwise wouldn't be, through midday emails and quick chats.

I am as skeptical and fearful of the infringement of technology on our personal freedoms and relationships as anyone (well, as anyone who isn't wearing an tin foil hat), but as with any technology, it is not the technology itself, or the time we spend with it, that makes it a threat to our selves, our societies, or our families. Sure, it is nice to spend time together without PCs--or television, for that matter. Numbers rarely tell the whole story, but if we are to be concerned about numbers, I would be more troubled by news that Americans spend, on average, more than 28 hours a week (the equivalent of two straight months per year or 9 years of a 65 year life) watching television.

P.S. Thanks to my husband (a.k.a. my worthy adversary), who emailed me the link to this story while sitting next to me on our couch.

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