The micro-interactions, touchpoints and connections of the digital home

By Daniel Donahoo Senior Advisor & Project Lead in News

This Digital Home, supported by Facebook, is a social research program examining the changing aspect of technology for Australian families in staying connected, informed and healthy through social isolation. Over June and July, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation gathered over 450 multimedia responses from 21 Australian families addressing areas such as relationships, health and learning.

The This Digital Home insights series captures stories and images intended to complement existing data and provide insight into the day-to-day experience of digital technology in the life of a family during social isolation. This is the first of a four-part series providing a brief insight into the trends emerging from this study. 

This Digital Home aims to explore ways to strengthen social cohesion amid families and the wider community, particularly as we all continue to adjust with the ‘new normal’ of social distancing. We will be collating recommendations in a final report to support an ongoing conversation about Australian families' changing attitudes to their digital lives. 

This Digital Home demonstrates that families use technology to support frequent micro-interactions that we are calling ‘touchpoints’. The frequency and immediacy of these digital connections strengthen relationships and family bond.

Frequent and regular

One father shared with us this observation, “Technology allows minor, frequent touchpoints (like messages, emojis, pics) that allow us to reinforce our connection.”

His daughters demonstrated this in their responses, sharing a video they made of a cubby house in isolation, which they shared with extended family members. This incidental sharing of moments in days is a part of our digital lives that social isolation has brought into focus.

Where small seemingly incidental communications can appear frivolous, in their frequency and regularity families found meaningful connections.

Embracing changing communication

The importance of these touchpoints is that it allows families to show in an ongoing way care, love and concern.

A majority of participants demonstrated that they have a family culture of sharing and communicating digitally (like Lucy and her Dad in this audio clip). Everyone is taking and sharing photos with each other, connecting to community sporting clubs or churches or schools using technology in ways that were often brief, but still important and collectively added up to a positive and beneficial part of family life.

This Digital Home shows that in our daily family life we have embraced the changes in communication and are working to find ways that we can use it to share and be together.

The era of video catch ups

The responses from families captures the way video calls have increased in use and become a regular part of family life. People use them to touch base with others especially during these times of anxiety and uncertainty. A video catch up is longer than a texted emoji, but it is also a touchpoint – a small moment of communication that one parent explained as being, “… particularly important during the current COVID crisis, when state borders have been shut down. It allows us to see how people are for ourselves rather than just hearing ‘they’re alright’.”

A number of parents had connected their children to Facebook's Messenger Kids as a way to safely facilitate those touchpoints and micro-interactions with each other and with their peers and friends.

What’s next?

While technology facilitates new and important connections, families also shared how technology can get in the way of connecting and spending time together. It was often a challenge for children and parents alike to moderate their use at different times.

Participants were able to articulate for us the compelling nature of technology that makes it hard to put down. In our next insight we will explore and discuss themes of balance and the tension between individual and family technology use. 

Ultimately, This Digital Home offers us the stories, practices and people behind the “hours of screen time” or “number of devices per household” listed in much of the research.

It puts faces and experiences to the raw numbers and in doing so will allow for recommendations that are more nuanced and reflect the diversity of family needs in this space. We are thankful for the authentic and open way families have shared the intimate aspects of technology in their home and look forward to sharing more with you.

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