Earlier, it was the remote. Now, it's the mouse. We take a peek at how families handle sharing one Internet connection.
Meet the Patels. They're your average close-knit Indian family. They eat together, pray together, holiday together, and for some reason, want to get onto the Internet - together.
Amrish, the elder of the two siblings, likes to sit down at the end of a long day, check email and surf the Net for art auctions and art news. His excitement on finding a rare Souza or Gaitonde up for sale is however regularly diluted by his younger sister Mallika, interrupting him, as she wants to chat with her boyfriend online.
Meanwhile Amrish's son Jay, keeps interrupting with "Aren't you done yet?" as he wants to check out the latest games on the Harry Potter site.
"It's a mad house sometimes," says Mallika. "We're literally pushing each other off the chair, and racing to the computer after dinner."
It's the same at the Kapoor household, where Renu, Sanjay and their daughter Rashi are engaged in constant battle for time on the Net. "Mom and Dad fight for time in the morning, and I'm fighting with Mom in the evening to see who will get on the Net first," says Rashi.
On an average, the Kapoors spend 10-12 hours online every day. Rashi is online between 10.30 pm and 1.30 am, checking mail and chatting with her friends across the world, while Renu is online first thing in the morning as well as during the day. "I don't fight; I've given up," says Sanjay, who checks his mail for approximately 10 minutes in the morning, after which he surrenders the computer to his wife and daughter, who are constantly in negotiations with each other.
"My son Samar and I used to fight for the computer all the time," says Ranjana Salvi, a freelance counsellor. "I like to get online after dinner and stay on till about 11, because that's when my family from America are online. So we end up having a four, five or even six person conversation on MSN chat!"
Samar, now in Bangalore, used to be Ranjana's prime contender for Net time. "We used to fight a lot to check email, but now that he's away, I get the computer all to myself!" she says. Daughter Shayonti however feels the time her mother spends chatting and emailing is cutting into family time. "We used to gather after dinner and have long discussions on everything under the sun," she says. "But now all my mum does is go online as soon she's finished her meal."
Renu Kapoor too believes that the time she spends on the Net has isolated her family from each other. "Communication has definitely become less," she says. "Earlier, when one of us walked in, we'd greet each other, ask about our day. Now we just switch on the computer and check email."
Unlike the TV, which she believes is something the entire family can watch together, surfing the Net is an individual function. "Early in the morning, when I should be watching the sunrise and enjoying my up of tea, I'm surfing instead. Invariably by the time I'm done at night, my husband is asleep," she says. "And if I wake up at some absurd hour of the early morning, I'm more likely to find my daughter chatting than asleep in her bed!"
In 2000, a Media Metrix Inc study found that the US topped the world in time spent online with US users spending an average of 789.4 minutes online per month. Then in 2002, a Neilson / NetRatings survey found that with the advent of broadband users logged 1.19 billion hours in just the month of january 2002, accounting for 51 per cent of the 2.3 billion hours spent online during the month
With the Internet becoming such an important part of households across the world, and increasingly in India, it's a case of joining 'em rather than beating 'em.The Australian Broadcasting Authority, in a study titled Internet@home (http://www.aba.gov.au/internet/research/home/families.htm) found that while the Internet is not the ideal family uniter, it can be used as a medium around which family interaction can be built.
With families sharing and discovering interesting sites and activities on the Internet, surfing need not become an individualistic activity after all.