Is technology assisting our lives or taking them over? Is it beneficial or harmful? Some say it has “fractured” the family. Others say it has made life easier and helped us connect better.
We use technology daily in schools, in the workplace and at home; it’s a fact of life. Some Webster City families who are “plugged in” tell us how they are using technology for business, to keep in touch or for entertainment.
Tech here, tech there
The Swons are wrapped up in their technology, both for business use and to stay close as a family. Kyle, senior vice president at Webster City Federal Savings Bank, and Darcy, owner of inTANDEM marketing, regularly use various forms of technology throughout the business day. Personal computers, laptops, tablets and other office machines help them be more productive and make better use of their time.
At work, Kyle is finding that his smartphone is allowing for increased communication with customers.
“Technology is enhancing the customer experience, and the banking industry is one of the leaders in adopting new technology,” Kyle says.
One way he uses technology in his personal life is to unwind at the end of the day.
“He enjoys following the St. Louis Cardinals and has an app on his cell phone that alerts him of the scores,” Darcy says. “He also unwinds by taking digital photos and then uses his computer to touch-up the images.”
Darcy’s business also revolves around various forms of technology and applications. She owns inTANDEM marketing, which helps rural Iowa communities grow by assisting small business owners with their marketing efforts. She utilizes several social media and other formats to conduct research and provide solutions such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Gtalk, iMessage and Pinterest virtual pinboard are some of her favorites. Foursquare is an app she uses that lets others know which establishments a person frequents and rewards patrons for coming into them.
As a business owner, it’s important for Darcy to stay connected 24/7, she says. She uses her iPhone to check emails and link to her work computer no matter where she is.
“As long as I have an Internet connection, I can work from home,” she explains. That’s especially nice, since the family lives just outside Stratford and has a 15- to 20-minute drive to Webster City.
The Swon family also uses technology as a safety measure and to ease parental worry when young drivers are on the road.
“The kids send Kyle and me a text when they’re coming and going so we know about how long they’ll be,” Darcy says.
Their children are Bryan, a freshman at Iowa State University; Shannon, a sophomore at Webster City High School; and Lauren, a seventh grader at Webster City Middle School. All three kids have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the family rule is that Darcy has to have a “friend” status with each of them so she can check in periodically.
“I want to be sure everything is safe and appropriate,” she says.
Darcy notes the need for caution when using technology, especially social media. “People forget that when they use these forums to communicate, it is like standing at the end of the driveway and shouting the message for all to hear,” she says. “You have to be careful and realize that what you post will be read and shared. Caution is important. Employers are now checking social media sites to do background checks on potential new hires and it is important that people use these tools responsibly.
“I have seen many things get stirred up via social media. People have to understand that just because it is on the Internet, it is not necessarily true.”
Many people use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends who are far away, viewing pictures and reading message about happenings in their lives. Darcy uses Skype video phone calls with her brother in Storm Lake, thanks to her laptop and the video technology.
A laptop for note-taking accompanies Bryan to his ISU classes.
“It’s no longer paper and pencil,” he told his mother.
He also uses Twitter a lot to post pictures and communicate with his friends.
“Twitter has taken over as the leading texting communication tool for the younger demographic,” Darcy says.
The girls use Pinterest frequently for fashion and jewelry ideas.
“It’s like an online magazine for them,” Darcy explains.
She enjoys cooking and checks out Pinterest for recipes, as well as home decorating tips. She says she just started using it for business, sharing marking information with colleagues. The businesswoman also uses her Nook Color quite often for work, so information is portable and available in one place. She can download books and magazines on it, eliminating the need to carry around a lot of books and periodicals. Reading books on the device is how Darcy likes to unwind in her free time.
Two years ago, the Swon family went on a vacation and took much of their technology with them: iPads, iPods, smartphones, Xbox, laptops, tablets, mobile hotspot and other gadgets they used for communicating, reading, playing games and watching movies.
“We had a van full of technology, and it was one of the quietest, best trips we’ve had,” Darcy recalls.
At home, the family puts their DVR to use to record TV shows they want to watch; they also like to watch movies or TV series on their Wii via Netflix.
“It’s amazing how technology comes into play. It’s everywhere,” Darcy says. “Every day there is something new coming out. The hardest thing, when you have so much technology in your life, is figuring out when to upgrade or move up to new models and technologies.”
Trying to simplify your life with gadgets and technology can sometimes make it more complicated.
“When the cell phone goes down, or the Internet connection is out, that’s when the stress starts to build at our house,” she says. “You feel cut off, and that’s stressful.”
It’s never too late
Darcy admires her mother-in-law, Kathy Swon, for embracing technology and keeping up with trends at age 84. Kathy uses a cell phone for communication and safety reasons and stays connected with children and grandchildren using email and Facebook on her PC. She plays bridge and solitaire and prints pictures her grandchildren send electronically.
“I’m a little limited in what I use,” Kathy says. “I am on Facebook to stay in touch with family, friends and acquaintances. Some of my friends are young people, and it’s nice to hear about their new babies and see pictures.”
Kathy especially appreciates the way technology has allowed her to better keep up with her granddaughters in California, but she confesses that the social media program does have some drawbacks.
“Facebook is a great way of communicating, but, unfortunately, it’s put an end to letter-writing, and that’s a shame.”
Overall, however, she is pleased with the communication opportunities technology offers.
“Who ever thought we would use these things at our age?” she asks.
A typical weeknight at the Asklund residence might find the family sitting together on their sectional in front of their flatscreen TV, each member clasping his or her preferred piece of technology. Dad Danny and Mom Casey are on their laptops, and the kids are using cell phones, iPods, tablets and a Nintendo DSs.
“We’re in the same room together, but we’re using different devices,” Casey says.
While son Brady, 6, uses his DS for playing games — his favorite is Super Mario Brothers — his sisters, Josie, 13, and Natalie, 11, might be using laptops to gain Internet access for homework assignments.
“I needed it to finish my report on koalas last week,” Josie says.
“I used it to work on my paper about Australia,” Natalie adds.
The girls also enjoy listening to music and playing games on their iPod Touches. Josie uses her phone to take pictures of family and friends, and Natalie likes to use her phone to videotape family antics and post them on Facebook.
Casey points out that all this activity is done with parental approval, and she regularly checks the kids’ text messages.
“All Internet has to be done where the parents are,” she says.
Equally, all new applications have to be parent-approved before purchase.
Casey has a Facebook account she uses fairly regularly, she says. She recently connected with her classmates to get information on their class reunion.
The Asklund girls are quite active at The Dance Connection, and Casey accesses the website and Facebook link for information on upcoming competitions and activities and to network with other dance moms. She is also taking advantage of the opportunity to read books on her new Kindle Fire.
“I love that!” she says.
To celebrate their recent 15-year wedding anniversary, Casey got Danny an iPad tablet. If he’s on a business trip, Danny uses his iPad to make FaceTime video calls to his family via a Wi-Fi connection. He praises their Apple products for their speed and ease of use.
“Brady can navigate pretty easily on my iPad,” he says.
As a parent, Danny also appreciates its security aspects. It’s password-protected, so if the kids want to use it, he has to log them in.
Both parents utilize technology throughout the day in their jobs. Danny is a marketing specialist at Van Diest Supply Co. and says much of his work is done electronically or digitally. Casey is the business office manager at Webster City Medical Clinic, where they have switched to an electronic medical records system in the past year. Danny notes that he has noticed that the reliance on technology in the workplace has reduced personal interaction and communication with people.
Relaxing as a family at the end of the day with their various devices brings this crew together, even if each is slightly preoccupied. What happens if the power goes out?
“We just hope we have enough battery power,” Danny says.
Choosing to resist or embrace various forms of technology is up to each of us. It can make our lives easier or cause more distractions. And while the methods and applications are ever-changing, one thing remains constant — it’s here to stay.