Tech Should be Helping Families

Family using touch screen in a museum

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Technology has done an amazing job of helping empower us as individuals – we can do more, and more quickly and easily, because of technology. But technology can also be isolating, separating us from each other as we retreat into our own virtual worlds. When technology does provide connections between people, it’s often between friends rather than families. There have been few apps, devices, or other technologies designed to really help families in a meaningful way. I’d love to see that change.

Technology can be isolating

Most technology is aimed at individuals, each in their own bubbles. Algorithms learn about us as individual human beings, not as groups or families. That’s fine when it comes to much of the technology we consume because we use it for our own personal interests and tasks. But it can also mean we’re each retreating into our own virtual worlds, carefully customized and curated for each of us. Even when we’re physically together as families, we’re often absorbed in our own devices and activities, separate mentally and emotionally.

The same technology that has so much power to enrich our lives individually, then, often disempowers families seeking to build connections and relationships and to form bonds. Technology becomes a barrier rather than an enabler of those relationships and many a parent has struggled to find ways to overcome them. To the extent companies have sought to provide technology for families, they’ve often focused on enabling parents to abdicate responsibility through time limits, parental controls, and the like, rather than giving them tools they can actively use or connecting them to their children.

There are exceptions

This is not to say technology has done nothing for families in recent years – I’ve actually seen some real examples of technology being put to good use in helping families. Here are just three:

There are also lots of general purpose technologies which families can leverage, from Skype to texting to shared cloud-based calendars. I put out a request on both Twitter and Facebook to ask what technology families were using to help them connect and communicate and much of it was in this generic category.

Some requests

However, I think the industry can still do better and there are opportunities for innovators to meet needs currently unmet. As I asked about how families use technology today, I also asked what more could be done. Based on those responses and my own thoughts, here are some requests:

I’m generally optimistic when it comes to technology – I’m far from a Luddite and technology is both the focus of my work and a massive enabler of what I do. I also use technology heavily within my family for all kinds of things. But the benefits to families have so far been mostly incidental, rather than a result of deliberate efforts to help and serve families and that’s something that could stand to change. Whether it’s the big platform and device companies putting more effort into all of this or startups launching apps or devices to help, I’d love to see more innovation in this area.