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Coedited book addresses parenting and technology

Wed. Dec. 7, 2022

Fiona Joy Green is Professor from the Department Women’s and Gender Studies and Jaqueline McLeod Rogers is Professor and Chair of the Department of Rhetoric, Writing and Communications. Green and McLeod Rogers, both of whom are parents of adult children, have collaborated on studying mothering and parenting and blog writing habits and topics for over a dozen years. Their current blog is Ta[l]king Care: Family Blog Lines

In August 2022, Green and McLeod Rogers published a co-edited collection Parenting/Internet/Kids: Domesticating Technologies (P/I/K). As the title suggests, the book explores technology and families in two senses: parents are responsible (i) for raising their children in the digital age with all the attendant issues and challenges, and (ii) for ushering computers, a relatively new technology, into our homes and the world (F. J. Green & J. McLeod Rogers, Demeter Press, 2022).

book cover

"Parenting/Internet/Kids: Domesticating Technologies" (Demeter Press, 2022), a new book coedited by Fiona J. Green and Jaqueline McLeod Rogers, explores issues related to parenting and technology. (Cover art by Lilia Kamata)

The book features contributions from authors/parents in Australia, Canada, India, Japan, the UK, and the USA, all of whom share their perspectives based on scholarly expertise and lived experience. The chapters, each representing a particular issue relating to parenting and technology, have been broadly categorized into four sections:

  1. Moms on Media: Stage and Screen
  2. Kids on Media: Windows and Doors
  3. Enabling: Digital/Physical Nexus
  4. Requesting Domestic Use and Surveillance: Who’s in Charge

book launch photo



Contributors to the book (from left) Matthew Flisfeder, Robyn Flisfeder, Andrew McGillivray, and Angela McGillivray (holding son Owen McGillivray) presented in person at the launch.

book launch

The book launch for "Parenting/Internet/Kids: Domesticating Technologies" was held in person and virtually on October 7, 2022.

The University of Winnipeg hosted a book launch for Parenting/Internet/Kids in person and virtually on October 7, 2022. (There's a link to a video of the launch at the end of the feature.) In November, I met with Drs. Green and McLeod Rogers by Zoom and what follows is a summary of that conversation.

LMM: In the introduction to the book, and at the launch, you shared that your work on P/I/K happened to coincide with the pandemic, and that during that time the role of technology in our lives – and our feelings about it – has changed. Can you talk a bit about this?

FJG: Our call for papers went out before the pandemic, and a lot of the chapters were written before the pandemic hit. Then, during COVID, we were all in lock down and suddenly became reliant on technology to communicate with each another in our families and with work and education. And while we can now use Zoom without drama, there was a shift! The development of technology was there, but common use of it did not occur until the pandemic. Now we can opt, for example, to see a doctor virtually or in person. So, in that way, we’ve seen a shift in the role of technology in our lives.

An example from within the writing

In a couple of pieces in the collection, there was a shift between the first draft and what was published that dealt with that [shift]. One that stands out is by Janis L. Goldie, author of Chapter 6 “Mothering, Digital Media, and the Privatization of Risk: Negotiating Boundaries of Use with Academic Expertise, Tweens, and a Global Pandemic.” Goldie is a mother of two, who teaches in the field of communications. Prior to the pandemic, Goldie was quite strict with her kids about their use of cellphones and what they were viewing. The pandemic hit. Suddenly, there were four of them living, working, and learning at home and fighting over bandwidth because there isn’t enough! And she’s having to purchase more, which goes completely against the core of her practice, experience, and knowledge as a professional. Yet, she can see that the world has changed right in front of her and she’s having to adapt. So that’s one example from within the writing itself.

I’m also thinking of UWinnipeg faculty Robyn Flisfeder and Matthew Flisfeder, parents of two, and the authors of Chapter 9 “Bionic Parenting: On the Enabling Possibilities and Practices for Parenting with Digital New Media”. They’ve embraced technology in terms of medical support for their daughter who has Type 1 Diabetes. The technology has developed so there is more freedom for their daughter to be away from family with friends, as [the technology] means that her sugar levels can be monitored much more easily and consistently.

The situation has changed, like life itself; life is always changing and you can’t control many elements. For me, this switch in technology just reemphasized the significance of context and the choices that we make within those contexts. Now we’re in a different place with COVID, but I don’t think we can go back to a pre-COVID relationship with technology. I’m just curious to know what the next shifts will be [looking ahead].

Ethics and technology

Jaque and I have often considered the ethics of technology. We started [this work] by thinking about blogging about our older kids. It quickly became apparent that this was problematic for us and something we couldn’t do. Even though we don’t directly address it in the collection, the ethics of technology will continue to be of interest.

JMR: Pre-COVID, there was a lot of work being done that was critical of technology and how we’re using it. There was push back against it, and we had time to be thoughtful about limiting consumption. Then when COVID hit, gratitude took over. All you’d hear people says was, “We’re so lucky to have online connections. Otherwise we’d be lonely and feel locked up!”

On the blog, we posted about two outstanding women both of whom have been critical about technology taking over. Canadian Ursula Franklin (University of Toronto) was a physicist, a scientist, and one of the first women theorists to talk about the role of technology in our lives. She would argue that as users of technology our job is always to educate ourselves as to where to stop. Use it, but always with a bit of caution. Ask what does it cost when we use it, not financially but socially.  I think over COVID we stalled a lot of questions and became a lot less critical and just lapped it up.

See also:

American Sherry Turkle is the second woman theorist who is interesting in criticizing tech takeover.  In her recent memoir, The Empathy Diaries (Penguin Random House, 2021), she argues we should limit how much we rely on tech and how often we go online. She argues we should ask about what we are losing in human time when we are doing screen time. Our meeting on Zoom to talk today is a perfect example, isn’t it! We three can get together [by meeting on Zoom] when we otherwise couldn’t. But it would be a lot different (better, perhaps offering deeper connections and fuller experience) if we could sit in a room together, have a cup of tea, and do this face-to-face.

So, with the pandemic, we just slid into over usage and noncritical usage. As Fiona pointed out, the pieces in our collection written pre-COVID have a tone of questioning or criticism. I think we should take up those questions and keep asking them.

See also:

LMM: One of the concerns raised at the launch, by Robyn Flisfeder I believe, was the issue of technology and equity, pointing out that the high cost of technology for treating medical conditions can it make unattainable for many. Someone else noted that during the pandemic some families didn’t have adequate resources to support their children’s schooling at home. Does the book speak to technology and equity?

FJG: There has been a lot written about the technological/digital divide, the app gap. The book doesn’t speak directly to it. In terms of resources to support schooling at home, I know quite a lot has been written about that elsewhere.

The pandemic certainly showed – and to some for the first time – the gaps that are there. For others who have known about this all along, finally other people are understanding. These [gaps] are along class lines, ethnic lines, literacy lines, geographical, and political lines, i.e., the ways that people are separated from each other.

JML: And inequalities in Canada happen with the unequal provisioning of infrastructure to allow connectivity. For example, in the northern communities where there are fewer/sometimes no cell towers and infrastructure, there is no connectivity.

LMM: One theme that comes up in the book is the tension between the private and public spheres of our lives in relation to our use of technology. This comes through in a poem by Victoria Bailey, author of Ch. 5 “The Kids’ Bedroom”), which she read at the book launch. Can you speak to this?

JMR: The late Canadian philosopher and communications theorist, Marshall McLuhan, used to say that in the domestic sphere, there is no division left in place between the inner and outer world or life, as he put it, we live in houses without walls (so everything’s visible and penetrable). In his time, McLuhan would have been observing this with the telephone and one-way entertainment delivery with television. Now with the invasion of cell phones and computers, everything comes in and out of our homes. That’s the huge difference. You don’t go home and think you have your family somehow secured within it.  Bailey’s poem gets at this sense of being vulnerable – the notion that we don’t feel separated or protected from the world when we are home.

FJG: I think about poet Victoria Bailey talking about losing her temper/patience because her kids were home and were online with school or friends. Bailey said, during COVID, there was absolutely no privacy in her own home. For example, coming out of the shower and realizing that her daughter had a friend on her phone when she turned the phone to her to say, “Look at this!”

We have doorbells that have cameras on them, which means that we can see out. It also means that someone somewhere can also have access into our home through that technology. We see sci-fi/horror films where the surveillance systems for homes get hacked by someone else, and someone else is watching homeowners without them knowing. I don’t think it’s that far from what can happen. I know people who always have a piece of sticky tape over the webcam on their computer, unless they’re using it, because they don’t trust that it’s really that secure and that safe. We can monitor our pets with little cameras when we’re not home.

LMM: What message do you hope readers take from the book?

JMR: The message is that we need to think about what we win and lose by using media—we promote one form of connection, but we may lose other values. We need to think more about what we lose or give up when we decide to rely on technology to do something for you instead: to be more mindful of what you’re losing when you adapt the tech. And then maybe in that case, we are sometimes going to use restraint and say “I’ll cut back, or I’m going use less, or try something different.”

An obvious example of a problematic smart device is the Roomba. It seemed like it was such an advance, and then you realize that you have a piece of junk that often bumps into things, gets stuck, and makes a noise. It’s not necessarily functioning better!

The collection also speaks to the idea that parents don’t want to be the gate keepers who make all the decisions for the families. Andrew McGillivray and Angela McGillivray (authors of Chapter 7 “Parents, Technicians, Curators: Shrinking Space and Time in Early Parenthood,” parents of two, who both work at the University of Winnipeg) argue it’s less important to say “no” than to help a young child manage and self-limit. They don’t say to Oliver that he can’t have any tech; they want him to be a person who thinks about what it is he’s doing when he picks up his electronic dinosaur, as opposed to a [more traditional toy like] a puppet . . .”  I guess I’m back to saying the collection explores the question of examining gains and losses.

FJG: And I thought that was honest of them to speak about how tech has become more integral to their lives and to their son Oliver’s life (and now into Owen’s life [their younger son]) and the need to be cautious. It’s interesting, people will say “I’m unplugging for a period of time” or, consciously taking time away where there is no internet access. It’s back to the issue of public versus private space.

Public/private and work/home

For those of us who have job where e-mails come in 24/7, especially with students, there is an expectation that we’ll respond to e-mail messages in the night whatever the question is. For example, a student asks for an extension or how to make citations [in a paper].

Before technology, we would leave work, close the door, and might mark papers; we’d have some control over our time. Whereas now, some administrators might expect work from employees on weekends. Recently, I heard about some companies checking their employees through keystrokes [when they’re working from home].

One insight we’re hoping people take away when they read the book, as Jaque has said, and some of our contributors have said, is to be mindful of the technology they’re using. Also, to recognize, and this goes back to your first question, that [technology] is changing all the time. So, what may have been true six months ago, may not be now, or there may be another wrinkle to think about.

Technology change and access to it

Technology moves so quickly that as a consumer or a user, it’s hard to keep up with. It assumes you’re constantly a user of the technology. And if you step away, you fall behind. There was recently a situation in BC where a particular service assumed people would have cell phones. A senior’s organization argued that it’s discriminating against people who don’t have the technology, because they can’t afford it, they feel like they’re too old, or they’re not interested in learning. One of the takeaways from the book is that we can’t pretend that technology isn’t important. It is in our daily lives, and we must continue to negotiate our relationship with it.

Technology and sources of knowledge

JMR: I wonder if we could add one other thing that we have grown to see. I think when we started looking at parenting and technology, many parents felt they controlled the knowledge sources, i.e., if kids want to know something, they’d ask mom and dad. I think in the ten years we’ve been doing this work, we’ve seen that flip so much, so that authority is now embedded in technology sources. Now parents might not expect to have answers and might just say, “Why are you asking me that? Just go google it?” Whereas we might have said before, “Why are you always on the computer or phone? What are you looking for? You should get the book, or you should ask me.” The texture of how you find out something and what you consider to be a knowledgeable and an accurate source has actually flipped right over. We see it with ourselves and with our students, don’t we?

FJG: And often in the classroom, there’s a student who is looking up something that has been raised in the class. So, the expertise of the parent or prof is not necessarily expected, and it’s also challenged – a lot of fact checking is going on! And anybody can do that.

Or that window [where parents are the authority] has gotten much smaller, for example, where for very young children, the parent is looked up to. But, I think, pretty quickly it shifts. Some parents have taken that on and will sit beside their children and show them how to use sources online and will try to encourage them to think critically and look up questions together. It could be like watching a movie together or reading a book together; now they’re online together and they’re looking at information online. For example, they might be planning an outing, e.g., looking together at where they might want to go and looking at what the reviews are, etc.

Lisa Michelle McLean
Office Manager and Program Office
Faculty of Arts: Deans' Office