Digital presence against isolation – at Christmas, too

2018. 12. 10.

Christmas is one of the prime festivities of the year, a time when both physical distances and generation gaps between relatives can and should be bridged if the family is to enjoy being together. How do new, digital communication methods affect family relations and the quality of time spent together? This is what the November iteration of eNET – Telekom’s “Report on the Internet Economy” seeks to explore.Digital devices enrich family ties despite less frequent personal meetings

In most families, excited and sometimes complicated negotiations about Christmas start already at the beginning of December: how, where and how long the family should celebrate together. Digital communications, including email, written or video chat and social media, are important modes of keeping in touch in our everyday lives, even though half of all internet users personally meet with family members at least quarterly, as indicated by eNET’s research.

How have family communications changed in the past 10 years? 71% of internet users think that family members used to consider it more important to meet in person. This opinion is more pronounced amongst older people. Then again, digital devices are deemed to have the advantage that it’s now easier to keep in touch within the family, and the quality of those liaisons has improved. 57% of internet users agree with these statements. The frequency of communication is another benefit: 63% of adult internet users claim that, thanks to digital devices, they communicate more frequently with family members than 10 years ago. The views of the elderly “baby boomer” generation (aged 54-72) are interesting in this regard. It’s this group who are most convinced that people used to need personal meetings more than now, but it’s also them who perceive the benefits of digital solutions (such as more frequent and higher-quality communications) most clearly. Also, they hold the strong view that such devices support the integration of older generations into family life.

Digital device usage fills and enriches the time between personal meetings. This is proven by the fact that only 30% of the respondents claim to meet with distant relatives less frequently than before because they consider digital communications sufficient.

Physical distance also plays a role: the farther a family member lives, the more important role digital communications (text or video chat, video telephony, email, online telephony) play. Parallelly, the ratio of people using mobile or land-line telephony decreases gradually, albeit slightly, as the distance between the partners grows.

Digital presence allows to involve older generations in family life

When keeping in touch with one’s family (not only at Christmas but also in everyday life), it’s not only physical distance that needs to be bridged, but also, quite probably, a generation gap. Almost half of all adult internet users (46% of those who have older family members) say that at least one elderly person in their family take advantage of opportunities offered by the internet and the digital world, i.e. that those people have basic skills to build on if they wish to enrich and strengthen family ties through digital devices. One quarter (27%) of internet users consider older generations’ presence in family life very strong, and another 47% feel that they can count on older family members in times of need. The intensity of older people’s participation in family life is perceived by 59% of internet users as entirely satisfactory, but only 46% think that older family members are totally satisfied in this regard as well. According to regular internet users, their elderly relatives would like to participate in family life more actively.

What role can digital solutions play in this area? Half of all internet users totally or mostly agree that new digital communication methods make it easier for older people to participate in family life. Younger family members help older relatives in this: in the families of 44% of the respondents, younger people try to persuade older persons to use new digital communication forms, and more than half of the respondents’ family help elderly members use modern technology. In fact, 29% of the respondents said younger family members give digital services or opportunities to older relatives as presents, thus promoting family ties and experience sharing. Also, a family gathering can be completed by involving a member who is not physically present via a video call or chat. This happens in the families of one quarter of internet uses.Christmas is about sharing the experience

The Christmas season strengthens family ties. During the three-day Christmas festivities, four out of ten internet users (39%) are more active in keeping in touch with family members who live separately, and only 5% communicate less than usual. (Half of the respondents indicated no change in intensity caused by the festivities.) Mobile telephony and chat messages remain the most popular communication methods with distant relatives during the holiday season (69% and 48%, respectively), and every fourth internet user picks up a land-line phone at this time of the year. Messages sent by conventional mail and social media are also grow in numbers compared to the rest of the year, as more people send postcards and greetings through Facebook or other social media to loved ones who are far away.

The next “Report on the Internet Economy” by eNET – Telekom will focus on how the various generations plan to spend Christmas together, how well they know each other’s wish lists, and what they think about digital presents. Stay tuned for further research results.

eNET – Telekom

About the survey: eNET interviewed 1,104 members (internet users older than 18 years) of the online research community in November 2018. The results are representative of the views of adult Hungarian internet users by gender, age and region.