Silicon Valley faces family vs. work problems

The Associated Press
Friday November 17, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO — For a look at the social impact of our always-wired, technology-driven future, researchers figured there was no place better to study than Silicon Valley. 

Anthropologists spent two years observing 14 middle-class, dual- breadwinner families in the shadow of Cisco Systems, Apple and Oracle. 

They found parents and children holding themselves together through a fragile network of cell phones, pagers, faxes and e-mails, obsessed with the same goals that drive companies throughout the region: speed, improving productivity and a constant need to upgrade. 

The downside: lives inundated by techno-gadgets, and fragmented into “chunks” of time, leading to increased stress. 

“The technology was infiltrating those other parts of life and tying them together,” said Jan English-Lueck, a San Jose State University professor who presented findings Thursday at the annual American Anthropological Association meeting. 

The researchers listened during the commute to work. They watched what was said during dinner, at neighborhood picnics, on the way to pick up kids from practices and lessons. 

Here are some of their observations: 

• Life is often viewed through work. Families use free time to network, whether at the coin-operated laundry, neighborhood picnic or soccer game. 

• People invent new social orders to manage work schedules. Rather than simply hire a nanny, often the nanny’s whole family becomes involved in child care. 

• Families manage time in “chunks.” Families use their technology to balance a non-stop schedule of meetings, school, social functions and errands. 

• Technology is pervasive. Families wonder how their children will be affected by a lifetime of Internet access, and say they feel constant pressure to “update” or “refresh” their lifestyle. 

Using technology to skip face-to-face meetings – whether at work or with family – means a loss of valuable context, English-Lueck said. 

Also, more technology does not necessary mean a quicker day. 

“They’re struggling to move but they’re not moving faster,” said fellow researcher, Prof. Charles Darrah. “They have more decisions to make, the more of these things they take into life.” 

The study, titled Interaction Between Family, Work and High Technology in the 21st Century is part of a 15-year project chronicling life Silicon Valley life. 

On the Net: 

Silicon Valley Cultures Project: www.sjsu.edu/depts/anthropology/svcp