TV Dinners . . . and Non-TV Dinners

9 May 2007 at 12:52 pm 6 comments

| Chihmao Hsieh |

Remember the times when families would get together at the dinner table for a meal and little Johnny would yell out, “Can we turn on the TV during dinner?” Ah yes, those were the good ol’ days.

How 1990s.

Nowadays, as highlighted in this AP article released today, television is not only losing its grip on families but also on individuals.

People can get their news streamed in on computers at work, they can get it on the radio while they jog, they can get it on their phone as they shop. For those that do watch TV, they now can record on Tivo or DVD-R and watch whenever they want. Those associated with the advertising industries have taken notice, as all these new technologies will be changing pricing schemes at every stage in the value chain.

It seems like everyday we hear more about technological advances and how much they might be powerfully affecting the most general social structure of our society. (I say “might” only because both correlational and causal arguments can apply.) We have fewer confidants as according to last year’s ASR study profiled here (due to reliance on instant messaging technologies?), an apparently steadily declining marriage rate (my 5-minute google search turned up this and this) partially driven by the sheer number of potential mates available on internet dating websites, and a shift of economic activity to smaller firms due to general advances in IT (JSTOR article here).

What will life be like in 15-25 years? Perhaps some communities will perceive causal relationships between the pervasiveness of information technologies and the deterioration of social values. City planners and real-estate developers will build entire sub-divisions or suburbs that are impervious to the use of cutting-edge technologies. . . . Kind of like a 21st century Amish-like lifestyle trend.

Johnny could have his way again. . . . Pass the peas.

Entry filed under: Cultural Conservatism, Entrepreneurship, Former Guest Bloggers.

Bob Higgs on Peer Review The Diffusion of IT in the Workplace

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marcin Tustin  |  10 May 2007 at 5:56 am

    Who would be disturbed by the lack of TV? The history of TV has been that intellectuals have always worried about how much we watch it, and people still seem to like to minimise the amount of time they are perceived to watch television. You don’t need to renounce communications technologies, and watch television to have a family meal.

  • 2. Cliff Grammich  |  10 May 2007 at 9:35 am

    It doesn’t appear the JSTOR article is available to users without direct JSTOR access. I assume you mean Management Science 40:1628-1644?

    The marriage point is an interesting one. U.S. rates are indeed decreasing, but they appear to still be higher than those for other “Western” countries (see Table 1312 at I was surprised to see marriage rates increased in Denmark between 1980 and 2000. (I don’t know how these would look standardized for age, which might explain some differences or trends.) I suspect some broader social phenomena (or changes in values) are affecting marriage rates more than IT, but IT may well be boosting these trends.

    This post and Peter’s subsequent on the diffucion of IT in the workplace makes me wonder what effect IT has had on the workplace. Eight years ago, I began work for a California employer that, five and a half years ago, generously allowed me to do so from Illinois so that I could address some family-care issues. Another California colleague will soon move to Seattle and work from there. A college friend who “works” in DC for another employer has been doing so from Montana for several years now. None of us could have done this twenty, fifteen, or maybe even ten years ago.

    The New Yorker recently had a fascinating article on commuting (, though I’m guessing O&M readers are so hip, or at least so much more hip than I am, that nearly all of them have already read it). Being more of the sociological and less of the economist type, I was particularly intrigued by the effects of commuting on social capital. Here’s an excerpt on this, citing Robert Putnam:

    “Putnam likes to imagine that there is a triangle, its points comprising where you sleep, where you work, and where you shop. In a canonical English village, or in a university town, the sides of that triangle are very short: a five-minute walk from one point to the next. In many American cities, you can spend an hour or two travelling each side. ‘You live in Pasadena, work in North Hollywood, shop in the Valley,’ Putnam said. ‘Where is your community?’ The smaller the triangle, the happier the human, as long as there is social interaction to be had.”

    Which leads me back to wondering what are the effects of IT on the workplace and its social interactions. Has it allowed for a noticeable increase in “long-distance” workers (like myself and my California colleague)? How does this affect the triangle Putnam notes? How might the flexibility that IT can provide affect the ability of a firm to attract and retain workers? (I can’t deny the appeal of accumulating more economic “capital” in the Midwest, with its lower housing costs, than I could on the West Coast . . .) Within a more traditional workplace, how much does IT affect social interactions, with e-mail and texting replacing face-to-face or even phone conversations that might be more wide-ranging?

  • 3. Chihmao Hsieh  |  10 May 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Marcin, I completely agree with you! That television often helps to bring family together to converse (e.g. over dinner) is a cultural matter, and from my experience a matter of USA culture. I was born and raised in the midwest USA, and this kind of TV-watching behavior was not uncommon.

    I very much envy cultures well-trained in the art of conversation (sans TV), and marvel at educational policy that supports it, as they do in France.

  • 4. Dick Langlois  |  10 May 2007 at 1:19 pm

    I’m surprised that no one has suggested that the reduction in TV watching is the result of increased computer-screen watching. I believe I have seen this point touted in the press, and it is certainly true in the case of my 11-year-old. This certainly doesn’t increase his interaction with family, but, unlike TV-watching, it does allow him to interact with many others all over the world. (In his case to discuss super heroes.) Is this “virtual” social capital? I’m sure someone has written about this. I also suspect that, given their biases, Putnamites would disdain this kind of social capital. (By the way, Cliff, my late colleague Everett Ladd demolished Putnam’s Bowling Alone by actually looking at the data.)

    Around here, schools have taken to having “turn off your TV” weeks. That was big at the Montessori my older son used to attend. My wife was given to proposing that, since there is much more mind-numbing material in books than on TV, they ought to schedule a book-burning week as well.

  • 5. Cliff Grammich  |  10 May 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Good points, Dick. I know Putnam’s work has its critics, Ladd being foremost among them. I was just curious what, if anything, IT might be doing to the workplace, including interactions in it and whatever social capital might be derived from it.

    The original article discussed decreasing viewership for the four networks. I’m not sure overall television viewing is decreasing. In fact (and going back to the Statistical Abstract, specifically Table 1110 at, it seems to be holding steady, while consumption of other media is increasing somewhat. Table 1112 at the same pdf does show a large difference by age in the proportion of persons who access the Internet.

  • 6. sakthi  |  24 May 2007 at 10:28 am

    I go with Dick! I believe we people always looking for betterment,that’s why we moved from radio to TV and now moving towards internet from TV..Since in TV you cannot communicate with other people but in i-net you can.Perhaps the day will come we move from i-net to something else….

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