Remember the days when Junior was glued to the TV and dad had his head buried in the newspaper? Times have changed. Your kids are probably texting with their friends or doing their homework on the computer instead of watching old reruns of Gilligan's Island. Your spouse could be reading his paper on a touch tablet or e-reader instead of getting ink all over his fingers.
The communication side of the family equation has gone high tech. When your daughter wants to know what's for dinner, instead of shouting from the top of the stairs, she either Skypes your kitchen computer or texts the smartphone you carry around in your pocket. It's a brave new world, and in some interesting ways, that's good news for family life.
The cell phone has made keeping in touch easier and safer. Now, the kids have instant access to a 911 operator in case of emergency -- which is probably the biggest reason you added them to your family calling plan in the first place. That cell phone has turned out to be pretty convenient all around. Now your daughter can call to tell you her music lesson is running a little long, and you can let your son know you'll be late picking him up at soccer practice. You can even call your spouse to ask him to pick up a gallon of milk on his way home. Yes, when the family is connected, life can be pretty convenient and happy -- well, until the cell phone bill comes due, anyway.
Smartphones are cell phones with muscle. They have operating systems for increased functionality and enough memory to run super cool apps. Need a quick weather fix? Use an app to check and see if that cold front will arrive before dinner. If snow is in the forecast, a quick text message will let the kids know you'll be picking them up right after school. Want a recipe for those thawed chicken breasts? Search online for thousands of ways to broil that bird to perfection, and then let everyone know you'll be eating in tonight.
The great thing about smartphones is that they're versatile -- like moms. Parents are always being surprised with unexpected challenges, like getting the materials together for a science project on an hour's notice or coming up with a quick, nonscientific answer to the question: "Why is the sky blue?" Smartphones help get the word out -- and get the job done -- whatever the family-friendly job happens to be. Having a handy helper makes mom less stressed and more fun when the going gets tough.
Social networking is a boon to families everywhere. In fact, the typical Facebook user boasts an average of 130 friends and family members, and although Facebook is arguably the most popular social networking site, it isn't the only one out there by a long shot. It is, however, a good place to post photos of your last family vacation and wax philosophical about the many uses for that last sliver of soap-on-a-rope. It's also a handy place to check in on Aunt Minnie from Poughkeepsie to see how her sciatica is doing, or learn the latest news about this summer's family reunion. Photo sites, blogs and other social sites like Twitter offer families the chance to keep in touch or reconnect with loved ones regardless of geography. These communications tools are often free and intuitive to use.
There's a lot of media coverage about the ways technology puts people at risk (think identity theft, online predators and cyber-bullying), but technology can be family friendly, too. You may rely on the GPS (global positioning system) in your car to get to the dentist without making a wrong turn, but the technology can do so much more. A GPS chip in your child's backpack or phone could help find him in an emergency, and one sewn into your dog's collar, or a microchip ID inserted under his skin, could save your pooch's life if he ever succeeds in getting out of the yard (and into the dogcatcher's wagon).
New applications for GPS technology are being developed all the time. Recently GTX Corporation released a line of special GPS-outfitted shoes that help track Alzheimer's patients. Who knows, one day personal GPS safety devices may become as common as wristwatches, handbags or key chains.
Your latest family video doesn't have to go viral to have a big impact. Taking candid photos and unscripted videos using a phone, tablet, notebook computer or the dedicated audio-video device of your choice is often easier than programming the defrost setting on your microwave. A long letter explaining how your brother managed to ride the lawnmower into the swimming pool just doesn't quite match the immediacy -- not to mention guilty hilarity -- of watching him sink like a stone in the shallow end on YouTube.
Multimedia technology has come a long way in a short time, and telephony services like Skype, card sites, online scrapbooking sites, and photo-sharing sites are making it easy to get in on the action. Whether you want to watch your sister's birthday celebration via webcam or just send an audio e-card, you can find any number of easy-to-follow tutorials for the cost of a five-minute browser search.
What does smartphone addiction look like in an older person? Read this HowStuffWorks article to find out.
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