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SURVEYS: Internet beats food, family time?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Quick question: During the current economic recession, is your family more reluctant to cut back on the grocery bill or the Internet bill?

In a survey of 500 British families, the Internet got priority over food, and it wasn’t even close. The survey by the British Internet provider O2 showed that given several options, 67 percent of families were more reluctant to cut back on the Internet bill than they were on school uniforms (59 percent), family vacations (30 percent) and the weekly grocery bill (24 percent).

The survey, O2 said in a release, provides insight into “what is regarded as essential and what is regarded as discretionary” spending by modern British families. But American families might agree, too, according to a recent survey by the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communications. That June poll shows that as household Internet usage has increased, family time has decreased.

According to the USC Annenberg survey of 2,000 U.S. households, the percentage of people who say they spend less time with household members since being connected to the Internet grew from 11 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2008. The total hours per month devoted to family time had changed, too, from an average of 26 hours per month during the middle of the decade to 17.9 hours per month in 2008.

Over the same period, reports of family members feeling ignored by members using the Internet grew 40 percent. Women (49.2 percent) were more likely than men (39.1 percent) to report being ignored.

Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they had concerns about the amount of time children and teens within the household spend online, compared to 11 percent who answered similarly in 2000.

The British survey found that 15 percent of parents reported that “at least one of us is always working at home outside normal working hours.”

Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the Center for the Digital Future, noted that families have survived past new technologies, including the telephone and the television, but that the Internet “delivers an engrossing interactive universe into our homes” and “demands much greater individual commitment.”

“The family is our social foundation, society’s basic building block,” he said. “We need to guard its health in what otherwise seems to be a boundless digital future.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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