Have we looked through the peephole before we let technology in?

How many times have we said that our home is that safe, private, intimate, stable place that allows us to develop normally and gives us the tools to go out and live in society? Thousands of times.

However much society evolves, however much change comes, however much technology bursts in and develops at breakneck speed, nothing is going to change the raison d’être of the home. That is why we must pay attention to anything that could jeopardise this value and role.

Last week HRF participated in a meeting with the Spanish association The Family Watch. We were invited to talk about these issues and one of the conclusions we came to and which we have all experienced is that the impact of technologies in the home is both positive and negative. It is undeniably bringing benefits and saving us time, and being able to recognise this and take advantage of it is important. But we also need to be aware of the problems it is causing us in terms of privacy, instability, isolation, communication and relationships between family members.

The participants in the session asked me for formulas, alternatives, recipes to ensure that the integration, the incorporation of technology is adequate. And, even at the risk of disappointing the audience, I could only be honest and answer that there are no magic recipes, but that every home has to develop an approach that works for their circumstances.  The response to technology will never be simple because we are facing a complex reality, as explained in our report by Mei Ling Fung and Patrick Scannell.

There are, though, recommendations that we can try to apply and that require effort on our part, namely education and prudence. Have we looked through the peephole before opening the door of our home and letting in someone who is friendly and beneficial but who is also a stranger? Have we taken into account that technology seems innocuous but once inside can we lose control of its impact? Have we read the small print or the side effects and still want to go ahead? Are we aware that artificial intelligence is already among us and is changing the way we communicate, the way we work, the way we relate to each other?

The changes do not have to be bad, we simply have to be aware of them and be the ones to decide in which direction and in which way we want these changes to influence our lives and our homes. Let us be the ones to take the reins now because only we should be the ones making decisions when our homes are at stake.

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Educating in waiting

We have become accustomed to wanting something and having it now. The immediacy which is brought to us by the Internet, online shopping and mobile apps, while allowing us to avoid queuing at the bank, at the store and at the supermarket, does not make us better. Maybe more efficient, maybe more practical, but also more intolerant. This is something to be careful of,  because this can also become transmitted and infect our attitudes at home.

We live in a hurry to do everything immediately and a simple traffic jam can make us angry. Now there are appos that help us avoid them, but not always… And those of us who grew up sending letters or postcards, not whats apps, those of us who grew up waiting ten months to meet our summer friends again, without facetimes, those of us who grew up waiting at the door for our neighbour to come down, without missed calls, should be an example for the “amazon kids”, as the digital expert, María Zalbidea, calls them.

Waiting at the doctor’s office while reading a book, waiting in line at the supermarket while ordering groceries, waiting for petrol while listening to the radio, waiting for the elevator while time simply passes, helps us to work on our patience, our tolerance and our frustrations. In addition, waiting allows us to think, reflect, evaluate, analyze and decide calmly, without haste.

Patrick Scanell says in our report, “The Impact of Technology in the Home,” that technology is complex, it is not something simple, so how can we incorporate it into our lives so quickly without evaluating and waiting to see its impact. Complexity requires thoughtfulness and we haven’t stopped for a minute to assess whether we want to introduce these dizzying changes in our lives.

I have grown up in a small city, far from the hustle and bustle of the capital, and immersed in the agricultural sector where the sky rules and the earth has its own rhythm, and often remember those sayings of the older generation such as: “more haste less speed”, “no matter how early you get up, the sun rises at its time” or “good things come to those who wait”. Wise words today as well as yesterday.
Why do we want to rush and put a screen in our children’s hands when they are young if they have their whole lives ahead of them to use them? Why not educate them to wait and offer them such a tool when their brain and personality are finally formed and they can make good use of them?  Rushing into things is never a good idea.

The home can be a place where time can be taken and the vital skills of patience and discernment taught. Learning to enjoy and benefit from all that technology offers us is well worth the wait.

The self-esteem of teenagers depends on their success on the Internet

Last weekend in Valencia, Nacho Gil Conesa, “Nachter,”  the humorist influencer, with millions of followers on Tiktok, Instagram and Youtube was signing copies of his book and the queues were very long. HRF CEO Mercedes Jaureguibeitia was there to present him with a copy of our most recent communication report “The Impact of Technology in the Home” to which he and his family contributed. His testimony adds a positive note to the potential of the new technologies in our lives and homes.

Nachter has succeeded in making healthy humour across social network platforms.  He was motivated to do his bit to help make the places where young people spend so much time offer content that made them laugh and hopefully feel better about themselves rather than worse. It would be good if his approach of using social networks for good, rather than feeling used by them,  was more widespread.  If young people could come to this digital world equipped with the necessary maturity to avoid the problems they often experience. If the developers, the big tech companies, took on board that the famous attention economy need not lead to or feed on aggressive or hostile responses.

This week we highlighted the report’s testimony of Ana Oyonarte, a teacher and mother in the United States. She is alarmed by the great influence that such platforms have on the personality of young people. Concerned that their self-esteem depends on “likes”. Can you imagine what your character would be like, how you would deal with situations, how you would behave at work if your personality had been shaped by your digital popularity? This, Oyonate argues, is a reality for many youngsters.

Marc Masip is a psychologist and expert into on how to make good use of new technologies without damaging our personal relationships and without creating dependencies or addictions. He is clear and categorical on this issue and says that from 0 to 6 years old, children should not have unguided use of screens either at school or at home. His experience of tech-addiction is that early unprotected exposure can lead to serious long term problems. Unhealthy screen use is clearly part of wider social and environmental early life experiences, but his insights are cautionary for parents of young children.

It is good to join with Natcher in being optimistic about the opportunities out there,  but we must be aware the supersonic speed at which the digital world evolves still needs the human navigational aids of reflection, compassion and self-control.

Technologies require maturity

It is a fact that the big technology companies are trying to keep us hooked. After watching the documentary ‘The Dilemma’, I was struck by the number of things they have in mind to capture our attention and how well they study their audience. That the workers themselves decided to leave their management positions to tell the public about their experiences and become guarantors of digital ethics through foundations that counteract the power of the technological platforms gives us pause for thought.

We know that there are thousands of dollars behind every “like”, every post and every user. Social networks have become sales channels that move a lot of money through influencers, but the more we are aware of these details, the more we know about the intentions and raison d’être of these companies, the more we will be able to develop tools that allow us to make correct use of them and discern between the real and the unreal: to avoid acting blindly.

The Communication Project that we launched last week, ‘The Impact of Technology in the Home‘, gathers valuable testimonies. It is not about being alarming, but about taking the right steps. We already know that technology is neither good nor bad in itself, it all depends on the use we make of it and also on the responsibility assumed by the developers. Marta Sánchez, Global Head of Retail Digitalisation and Distribution at Vodafone UK, explains that her company has tried to face the challenges that this rapid evolution offers, putting the person, the user, at the centre of its objectives. As she says, they are well aware of the importance of going down this road together, sharing the challenge with society.

We are all capable of appreciating the advantages that technology has brought us. We are also capable of seeing the changes that are taking place in the way we relate to each other, the way we work, the way we communicate, and even the way we manage our homes. What we have to achieve, and this is a personal task that the community must support by offering tools to families, is to develop an ability not to accept or fall for everything that is given to us and to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. For that, as psychiatrist Enrique Rojas says in the report, maturity is needed.

Therefore, while enjoying the marvelous advantages of technology, let’s encourage this maturity.  The digital world is parallel to the real world and that means that it will affect our mental, emotional, cerebral, rational, personal and professional stability. The conclusion does not change, it is up to us to be prepared and to prepare future generations so that this impact is positive, and we manage to avoid the risks that will always exist.

This report is also available in Spanish ‘El Impacto de la Tecnología en el Hogar’

Digital strategy for families

Fear of technology in the home should not paralyse us, much less leave us behind. We must be well aware of its advantages and disadvantages in order to use it correctly and get the best out of it. Experts say that good training and joint use by all members of the family help as everyone learns at the same time and the technology becomes a more natural part of the home.

Again the word training. Once again, we insist that if planning is necessary to manage the home, a digital strategy is needed to incorporate technologies into the home and has to be an important part of that plan. What company in today’s world that wishes to progress has not already thought about its digital strategy? Well, the home is no exception.

We could think that this is a fad and stay on the sidelines, but the truth is that realistically speaking, the world has changed and the way of life is different. Sooner or later technology comes into our lives. There is a large part of our daily lives that can no longer be done in any other way. We buy flights from our mobile phone, do our shopping with a simple App, book a table in a restaurant, make medical appointments… And increasingly people turn on lights, lower blinds, heat their house and clean with a simple click or by asking the virtual assistant.

Training. Training is necessary because the information is power. Tristan Harris, the former head of ethics at Google and one of the protagonists of the documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’, says that it is not only the technology industry that needs to know how social networks work, this information is available to everyone. In order to be freer and avoid being controlled, everyone should know how the big technology companies work, what their intentions are and what they want from us.

One of the experts who participated in the launch of our book in Madrid, Maria José Monferrer, created AIVERSE, a foundation with the aim of educating, training and familiarising families with artificial intelligence. That AI is not scary, that it is an attractive sector and that it opens the doors to a world of future employment possibilities for today’s teenagers who, due to lack of knowledge, only see technology as a form of entertainment, when it is a great opportunity.

We will talk about all this and much more in the upcoming launches of our book The Home in the Digital Age that we have already planned. The first will be virtual, with the Universidad Panamericana de México and in Spanish. Next Monday 24 January at 18.00h British time. To connect here is the link.

And the second one will be in person, in London, at the House of Commons next Monday 7th February, invited by Miriam Cates MP. The keynotes will be Stephen Davies, who is one of the authors of the book and head of education at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Tom Harrison, Director of Education at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, and author of the book Thrive: How to cultivate character so your children can flourish online.

If you want to keep up to date with our activity, in addition to subscribing to this blog, you can follow us on our social networks. Don’t forget to add a comment to this post if you have something to say and hopefully we’ll have the chance to meet again in 2022.

AI at home? Let’s reflect!

Last week we had the opportunity to participate in a virtual meeting with the Argentinean association MIF, Mujeres Independientes Federales. On this occasion, taking advantage of the publication of our latest book ‘The Home in the Digital Age‘, they invited us to share the main conclusions about digital homes and the impact of technologies in our homes.

Matilde Santos, professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and author of one of the chapters of the book, focused her session on the impact of Artificial Intelligence in our lives. Obviously, the home is one of the places where we spend the most time and where our relationship with technology has the greatest influence since it is the space in which we guard our privacy.

Professor Santos, after a theoretical and practical presentation, in which she explained what Artificial Intelligence is and how present it is in our lives, encouraged us to reflect on the relationship that we decide to establish with technology. We cannot live in fear and worry about how this will affect our families, our children and even our relationships, if we do not make a calm and thorough analysis of what exactly our relationship is with these “smart devices” that we have incorporated into our lives. And how does one go about this reflection?

First, we must be aware that we are not talking about futuristic or galactic houses, but about real houses, our own homes, in which artificial intelligence lives with us in a natural way. This is changing the way we relate to each other, but are we aware of what we have changed by relying on Alexa or Siri to translate something for us or to tell us to take the potatoes out of the oven?

Would we be able to vacuum the house again, or redo the shopping list, or cook again if there were no intelligent robots? Would we be able to get to an unfamiliar place by car or on foot without GPS? In other words, to what extent do these gadgets that do things for us, override our abilities or even make us dependent?

Automating tasks that, for the person, and in this case, the homemaker, can be tedious, tiring and require little intelligence, saves us time and allows us to dedicate that time to other things, but are we aware that technology can sometimes fail? What are the consequences if the robot that feeds our dog fails? Do we have all our expectations placed on a machine? Is the fact that they make decisions for us overriding our thinking? Have we stopped thinking by mechanising decisions? Let us not forget that they help us, they do not replace us.

Finally, it is important to be aware that these “electronic devices” are little spies that analyse our behaviour, supposedly to offer us what best suits our tastes, our way of being, our way of life… But doesn’t the fact that they only offer us what we like impoverish the offer? Doesn’t it reduce our horizon? Doesn’t it limit our options?

In short, there are many questions on the table that require calm reflection in order to know individually how technology affects us and thus be able to assess and decide what impact we want it to have in our homes. The decision is ours, it can never be imposed.

Home Hub

This week saw the publication of Home Renaissance Foundation’s pioneering book on the home and the challenges and opportunities of new technologies.

The Home in the Digital Age seeks to place the home at the heart – or as the hub – of the ethical, social and economic considerations generated by the AI revolution.

When this material was being prepared in 2019 there was no glimpse of what 2020 /21 had in store. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the arguments in this book more urgent and prescient than anyone could have imagined. For the majority of people across the world the home did indeed become the hub last year– the place where domestic and professional life had to rub shoulders and sometimes tripped each other up.

Historian Stephen Davies, in his chapter with economist Maria Sophia Aguirre, addresses “Automation, the Home and Work” and sheds revealing light both on how we find ourselves where we are now, and the best way forward. Dr. Davies reminds us that the removal of home from the centre of the understanding of work is a recent phenomenon. Until the mid 20th century we did not think in terms of people as individual economic units, but instead saw the household as the foundational unit “physically embodied in the home, which was not simply an address or residence but rather a social unit with a set of social connections as well as a physical location.”

Further back in time, whole households were engaged in producing goods and services within the home as well as maintaining the domestic structure and nurture of the home. Mechanization – early automation – took such “cottage” industry as spinning and weaving into factories and out of the home sphere. The regulation and labour safeguards of this new working world trailed far behind its widespread introduction.

The current new age of automation, all that is meant and predicted as Artificial Intelligence, comes at a time when the older understanding of integrated, mutually dependent household or family units has been replaced by the individual focus. What are the implications for the redistribution of work from such individuals to non-human producers/processors? How is human work per se to be valued? How is the individual supported in the new work world?

The answers are within the home. Within the work of the home there is scope for increased automation and SMART technologies. In WFH (Working From Home) we see signs of the factory returning to the cottage. What has not returned is the understanding of that work as a shared function of the household. Being cooperative with and responsive to the contributions and needs of all in this wider foundational unit should be seen as key, in human and economic terms, to the integration of the new machines.

As Dr Davies concludes, we should “bring the home back into our field of vision when we consider the impact of automation.”

At HRF we understand that the home is at the cutting edge not just of the “digital age” but every age. Looking after it and recognizing its value is more vital than ever.

Alexa, remind me to call Ana at 12 noon

Alexa, Siri, Bixby, Cortana, to mention the most popular virtual assistants, are a reality. We are not talking about the future but about the present. New technologies are no longer new, they are technologies that are increasingly ingrained and incorporated into our everyday lives. Our homes are getting “smarter” every day as we let gadgets into our homes that make our day-to-day routines easier.

I would say that we naively let them in, motivated by the promised assistance the time saving devices would bring, removing some of the stress from our workload. They remind us to take the food out of the oven, to do the shopping, attend an appointment… They tell us the weather forecast in case we need to take an umbrella or recommend music suited to our tastes. Robotic vacuum cleaners even sweep the floor while we are out and smart thermostats switch on the heating so that when we get home from work, we find our homes warm and welcoming.

And this is only the visible, the ordinary, that is available to all, which requires little investment and which many of us already enjoy. Because to be honest, I am the kind of person who is not keen to keep up with the latest trends just for the sake of it, but I will if someone recommends it.

At Home Renaissance Foundation, always concerned about the central value of homes in society, we have asked ourselves if all this is being born and developing within a legal, social, moral and ethical framework that benefits people, because we do not forget that where we are letting in all these new dynamics in is our home, that safe and intimate place for the human being.

Sonia Livingstone, professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science, says in the Preface of our new book ‘The Home in the Digital Age’ (now available here)An intrusion into our home is an outrage, and being homeless is a tragedy.”  So I wonder if all these gadgets that supposedly promise to make our lives easier are in fact an intrusion into our homes, in a subtle and seemingly useful way.

Let’s test it to the limits, before it is too late and understand the kind of challenges we face and analyse if AI and all these technologies really are for the wellbeing or the detriment of the person. Let’s fully assess the risks of accepting them into our homes so that we can consciously face both the positive and negative consequences.

This latest book that we have compiled in collaboration with the STI and with research by prestigious academics (see the Index here) from different disciplines, is HRF’s initial contribution to discovering where exactly these ‘not-so-new’ technologies are taking us.

Is technology a help or a hindrance in achieving work/life harmonisation?

Before the pandemic, it was beginning to become apparent that we live in a flexible world in which the workplace does not have to be the office. At Home Renaissance Foundation, team members in various cities throughout the world have been working from home for a number of years, with our headquarters in London still active as a meeting space a few days a week.

This has allowed us, quite naturally, to adapt to the period of confinement without making drastic changes because teleworking was already established. Mondays meetings set the work pattern for the rest of the week with a flexible timetable to include scheduled calls.

But what has happened in cases where adapting to a new way of working has not been so straightforward? For those not used to teleworking and surrounded by family with children in need of homeschooling?

The change has not been easy, but in general, people have managed to adapt with more or less success, considering that what we have lived through is not the best example of teleworking. We have asked around and people, in general, are satisfied. Many feel exhausted due to the circumstances and wishing for a certain normality, but happy with the potential new way of working where technology plays a leading role. Many feel that once children return to school, the new teleworking practices introduced by pioneering companies will be more effective and easier to implement.

Kathleen Farrel, Lecturer at the Technological University of Dublin, wonders “Is technology a help or a hindrance in achieving work/life harmonisation?” in her chapter of our latest book entitled “People, Care and Work in the Home” published by Routledge.

We are not going to advance her conclusions, but she contextualizes teleworking by quoting different authors, for example “Work and family could be said to be two of the most significant elements of human life” (Toyin et al., 2016). “Indeed, work/family balance is one of the most challenging issues facing families in the twenty-first century” (Walker et al., 2008).

“According to the literature on working from home, the results indicate that the success or failure of working from home is very closely linked to homeworkers’ identity.” (Tietze and Musson, 2010).

Friedman (2014: 12) highlights that to be effective one needs “to know what matters.” He recommends an exercise called “Four Circles” representing the four domains “work, home, community and self.” This helps reflect on the “values, goals, interests, actions and results” cultivated in each area, and whether the latter are compatible or opposed to each other. When people engage in flexible working, the relationship between work and home needs to be redefined and changes made. (Tietze and Musson (2003, 2005).

I would say that quarantine has helped us, without a doubt, to reflect on these issues as a family after spending so much time together. We found ourselves immersed in change without much ado and it has been shown that those who took these aspects into account achieved a more effective and above all, a true adaptation, with a personal and work balance that gradually approaches the ideal pattern.

Colin Brazier said in his article on ‘Home in the Time of Coronavirus‘ that once confined, the success of its management does not depend on “any radical change. This is not the time to introduce lessons in Sanskrit.” What has not been taught before cannot be quickly applied. What is no longer a habit is very difficult to establish or balance in crisis situations.

Therefore, the home needs to be built little by little and with tenacity. It is a titanic effort that bears its fruits in the medium and long term. Family management must include reconciliation; and teleworking, thanks to technology, can be a very useful tool that, well run, will bring results. If the home lays its foundations well, it will be able to face health crises like the current one, with job changes such as teleworking, or technological innovations that we still don’t even imagine. The important thing is that the core of the home is unbeatable in the face of storms and flexible enough not to be overwhelmed – and that requires a good leader. Don’t forget that in your home, the leader is you.

Harnessing the digital revolution in the home

Welcome to this month’s blog and welcome back to school, college and everything else that starts again in September!

This month we are looking forward to all the good things autumn has in store. As we pack away the memories of a happy summer we have some advice on “Keeping the Glow” into the new season.

In our feature article, Rosemary Roscoe continues her series of insights into the opportunities offered by the digital technologies to our homes. This month Rosemary considers Intergenerational Homes of the Future. The value of grandparents in the continuing care and nurture of the family is becoming more and more widely recognised and we now need to build the homes and support the policies that allow this to flourish.

As the post-summer routine starts again perhaps you could do with some inspiration for activities and recipes to start autumn in style. There are lots of ways to make this month a golden one so see if any of these creative ideas can put a spring (!) in your step this September.

Enjoy all that this “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” brings your way and keep us posted on all your September plans!

Angela

Harnessing the digital revolution in the home

“An estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide possess a smartphone, a device virtually unheard of just over 10 years ago. It’s little wonder that digital technology is permeating just about every aspect of our lives – and cellular data revolutionising the home and office, blurring the lines between ‘work time’ and ‘play time’.  Whether limitless access to the internet is a good thing is a matter for debate but one thing is for certain – it’s here to stay.
At the Home Renaissance Foundation’s Experts Meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, Mei-Lin Fung, Co-founder of the People Centre Internet, questioned “whether transparency between our internal and external spaces is disturbing millennia-old notions of the family.” She emphasised the need for the digital home to be “a safe place where we live, play, learn, earn and develop the skills to care about other human beings. It is both a real and virtual space where people make healthy and responsible choices so that we can thrive together.” She emphasised that “we must envisage and define what we as humans want a digital home to mean, in a world where digital technology can be embedded in every aspect of human life.”

Addressing the meeting, eminent psychologist Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Media and Communications at LSE,  while acknowledging the much-publicised risks posed by social media, cautioned against enforcing a blanket two-hour limit to screen time. She advocated instead that parents sit down with their children and talk about what exactly they are doing on the internet.
While online games are obviously addictive they are not all necessarily bad for children’s development. Apparently, some strategic video games, that aren’t claiming to be educational, can nevertheless help with problem-solving and spatial skills and even improve academic performance. Studies, however, have reported that young people immersed in ‘screens’ for too long are not using face-to-face communication and could be losing important social skills as well as taking time away from schoolwork.

But it’s not just young people who struggle to control their screen time –according to a new report by Common Sense Media, most parents worry that their children are addicted to devices, but about four in 10 teenagers have the same concern about their parents!”

Rosemary Roscoe