Better Living With Technology

Navigating the profits and pitfalls of modern screen time

Technology Use During the Holidays

Let technology enhance, not detract from, your time together.

Dereck Bradley on Flickr via Creative Commons

Holidays should be a time of togetherness, but technology is often being blamed for driving a wedge into the time we spend with family and friends. As Alex Soojung Pang notes in his new book The Distraction Addiction, rather than sharing conversations and enjoying the people we’re with, we keep our eyes on the screen and miss the moment. Complement your holiday rituals with some phone-free time, and perhaps create new rituals incorporating tech. Here are a few pieces of advice for making the most of technology during your holiday time with others.

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Create rules that everyone can agree on. If you think your holiday would benefit from less screen time, bring up the topic with your family or friends and see how they feel about the idea. No one wants a dictatorship governing the holidays, so be open to ideas and discuss with attendees beforehand what you think appropriate tech use should be. For example, perhaps phones can only be used to take pictures when unwrapping gifts, but texting to friends or posting to social media should wait until afterwards. Or, perhaps phones are not welcome at the dinner table, but are fine when everyone is watching a movie. Alternatively, if re-enacting A Christmas Story is part of the family tradition, ask everyone to put their phones away so everyone can participate and enjoy (and lest the Bumpus hounds make off with them.) Whatever the rules are, make sure you communicate them clearly to everyone in attendance.

Stick to the rules. If one person breaks the rules, it’s likely the whole scheme will go out the window without some form of punishment. Perhaps the first time someone’s caught breaking the rules, they receive a warning, but the second time means you’re on dishwashing duty after the next meal. Alternatively, the punishment could be having to post a silly, holiday-themed picture to their Facebook or Instagram account. If you don't have a set of Ralphie’s pink bunny pajamas from Aunt Clara to pose in, perhaps just snap a photo with candy canes as walrus tusks and a stocking on your head.

Use technology to unite, rather than divide, the family. If there’s a video game console in the house, find a simple multiplayer platform game (such as MarioKart) and schedule a tournament. Or, bring or buy a game that a diverse audience can enjoy (e.g., the trivia game You Don’t Know Jack, which is also available on Kindle and PC). If you’re only equipped with mobile devices, download a standby with broad appeal like Draw Something (where players guess each other’s drawings) or SongPop (where you pick a music genre and try to guess the songs faster than your opponent) and have pairs challenge each other.

Another technique is to use an app like Instagram to take pictures. If you have family or friends scattered in different places, come up with a unique hashtag like #Kahnukkah2013 so that everyone can share photos in one place. Another idea is to break out the old family photo albums and try to recreate magical moments of yesteryear (without the mullet this time). Or, you can break the family into teams for a holiday photo scavenger hunt, where you can capture things while running holiday errands (e.g., a Griswold-style lights display, a car with reindeer antlers) or even at home (e.g., a pet in festive garb, a snowman made out of mashed potatoes, someone asleep in the recliner).  

Skype is also a great technology to employ during the holidays. Using the video chat feature, have group chats with loved ones. You can light candles together or open up gifts in front of each other so that the sender can enjoy the process (not recommended if the sender has Aunt Clara-like gifting prowess.) If you’re into musical holidays, try gathering the group and caroling to your distant friends and relatives—no need to even leave the house and its bountiful supply of beverages.

If you’re looking for some entertainment, have everyone search YouTube to find their favorite holiday related video and create a fun playlist to share with everyone. They could be viral videos or catchy holiday songs. You may start with K-Mart’s viral “Jingle Bells” ad or unearth treasures like songstress Brigid Kaelin’s yodel-filled Hanukkah anthem “Blue Dreidel No. 9” from her album Mazel Tonk.

Acknowledge that everyone gets tired of each other. We have yet to find the technology that can help us achieve the ideal level of socializing while managing stress from our holiday chores. One of the benefits of technology is that it can be an escape when we’re overfull on family time or burned out of the holiday spirit. So, outside of shared moments, don’t get offended if a family member wants to text with someone else or retreats online for awhile. The holidays can be exhausting, and everyone deserves a break from each other.

I hope these tips help you make technology an asset rather than a disruption this holiday season!

 

Jesse Fox, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at The Ohio State University and director of the Virtual Environment, Communication Technology, and Online Research (VECTOR) Lab.

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