The household vignettes: Johnson household

April 2015, Melbourne, by Josh Nettheim

Alice, Helen, Michael and Tyrone (and Noel)
Alice, Noel and their three children live together in the family home.

Noel is a successful insurance broker and frequently travels abroad for work, but likes to unwind with many games of Solitaire on his iPad. Alice is the self-designated “family PA”, frequently using her smartphone to co-ordinate the family’s movements—as well as monitoring their social media use. Helen, the eldest child, is currently enrolled at University and her devices are most often used as storage for travel photos and her extensive music collection. Michael has just started a new job, refuses to use his phone at work and is the least media savvy of his siblings. Tyrone, the youngest, is glued to his phone, often forgoing sleep in favour of social media.

Mother of three Alice is the family PA, which means from morning until bedtime she is constantly texting, calling and messaging her family members through a variety of social media applications. Alice also maintains contact with friends via Facebook, but mostly just to see what others are up too as she feels that too much sharing—especially via locative media and geo-tagging—is akin to bragging. While Alice does not geo-tag herself, she does so on special occasions where her children are concerned. Alice also uses locative media to keep track of family members overseas. Alice works mostly from and around the home and has recently discovered her phone’s capacity to function as a radio, and aside from the bedroom there is no place Alice’s phone does not go.

Helen is a University student and also works at her father’s firm. Helen’s phone is primarily used as a camera, however she almost never shares photos, preferring instead to print them out in the form of tangible photo albums, if at all. Helen participates in a range of social media applications but the other party almost always dictates her use of platform, and Helen switches from app-to-app depending on her friend’s choices—unless she can convince them to use Snapchat. Most of the remaining space on Helen’s phone and laptop is filled with music and her headphones are never too far away. Helen will wear her devices out completely before replacing them. Although her phone has a cracked screen (and she occasionally cuts herself on the glass) she has no desire to replace it—and a total aversion to tablet computing.

Michael is not particularly attached to any device. While his phone accompanies him wherever he goes, it is always on silent and often left in a location where he can’t see it or feel it vibrate. Michael dislikes talking on the phone and feels little compulsion to return calls or messages unless they originate from family members. Even then, because he works in close proximity to his father and sister—and his mother acts as family PA—Michael will often enlist the aid of a parent or sibling in conducting communications. However, Michael’s almost indifferent policy towards technology does have a few loopholes, socially in the form of a certain group of friends on Facebook, and personally as a tool to (constantly) search for cars he simply cannot afford.

Tyrone will not go anywhere without his phone. It wakes him up in the morning and it keeps him awake at night, as the final check of the evening often turns into multiple hours spent on Facebook and Instagram—only to be repeated in reverse upon waking. Tyrone puts his phone away at school, but only because the students are equipped with laptops and frequently communicate with one another throughout class via Facebook and the school intranet. Unlike his siblings, Tyrone is acutely aware of locative media and actively switches his off for privacy reasons. Tyrone’s phone is so prevalent in his daily life that he has arranged his room be more conducive to his phone use—including his bathroom which might be the place he uses it most.

Noel was in the United States when the interviews were conducted but nonetheless there is much to be said about his media usage. Noel has recently acquired a Facebook account, although he is unsure how to use it—and the idea of becoming Facebook friends with certain people confuses and angers him. Noel communicates with his family using Viber when he’s overseas (the Johnson’s have been stung with some heavy phone bills before) and due to his work is constantly on email alert from clients and co-workers abroad—much to the dismay of Alice. Noel has a particular soft spot for Solitaire on his iPad and will often play many games before being pulled into bed.

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