Contents - Previous - Next
This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu
Social change and the family
Sociological, anthropological, and historical
The modern family
Positive links between socio-economic development and the modern family
Negative effects of development on the family and society
Changes in the late- and post-industrial era
At the threshold of profound change
The post-modern family
Reach of post-modern influences into the developing world
Lessons from the social change literature for family social health
A post-modern approach to progress
Sociological, anthropological, and historical perspectives
Early hunting-and-gathering societies appear to have lived first in small nomadic bands and later, in some locations, in larger, more settled, and hierarchically organized communities (Wenke 1984). Judging from groups of !Kung, Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, and others whose lifestyles have remained relatively intact into recorded history, small kin groups of hunter-gatherers tended to be cooperative and relatively egalitarian. Although marital partnerships were formed, hunter-gatherer bands valued compatibility among their members more highly than continuous co-residence with a single band, and individuals might fluidly move from one related band to another (Quale 1988). They have been idealized by ecologists for holding values of living in harmony with other life forms instead of striving to dominate and exploit them. However, the integration of such families into modern life tends to be a long and difficult process.
Most herders and pastoral nomads tend to have patriarchal families and a tendency toward polygyny (Schneider and Gough 1961; Maccoby 1966). Women's productive work tends to be limited to herding of small animals, dairying, and food processing and preparation (Quale 1988). Where exchange relationships must be set in place over widely dispersed territories, marriage partnerships may be strategically located, and the exchange of daughters in marriage may help to cement economic alliances. These families are difficult to integrate because their mobility interferes with the schooling of their children and the regular health care of their members.
Pure forms of nomadic family types may be the exception rather than the rule. The Dinka of the Sudan, for example, grow about one-third and gather and hunt two-thirds of the food types that they use (Zeitlin 1977). Dinka women and old men tend to be sedentary year-round, while young men are nomadic pastoralists for a part of the year (Deng 1972).
Societies engaged in traditional agriculture, crafts, and trade have been broadly divided into those practicing communal land ownership and those practicing private land ownership (Caldwell and Caldwell 1990). Most populations of Europe and Asia made the transition from communal to private land ownership from 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, in response to the accumulation of significant agricultural surpluses, or possibly wealth from other sources such as copper mines. In sub-Saharan Africa, isolated by the desert, and with growing conditions that did not favour the accumulation of surplus, communal land ownership remained predominant.
Polygyny, as a family form, is well suited to a shifting agricultural system using abundant low-yielding communal land farmed by labour-intensive technologies (Caldwell and Caldwell 199()). Each additional wife and her children permit the family to farm more territory and to achieve economies of scale in domestic labour and trade. The family unit, which is headed by the husband and the elders of his lineage, starts with one wife and adds more after accumulating the bride-wealth needed for each. The more wives and children, the larger and more affluent this unit can become. Sexual fidelity of the wives is not a top priority, and all children born to a man's wives are legally his. Societies with this family form appear to place the highest cultural and religious value on child-bearing. According to Quale (1988), it may not be reasonable to assume that all early agricultural societies fit this model, when agriculture evolved in rich localized topsoil deposits of annually flooding rivers.
Monogamous marriage, with strong cultural safeguards for the sexual fidelity of women, is important for the maintenance of traditional subsistence agriculture on privately owned farms. Family lands must be passed to male heirs whose paternity is beyond question. For greater security in land transmission, cross-cousin marriage may be preferred. Brothers whose children marry, reunite land and other possessions separated by inheritance. Such cousin marriage has been common in many cultures, with the highest current rate of about 60 per cent of all marriages claimed for Pakistan (DHSL/Institute of Population Studies 1992). It may also reduce property-related feuds common among societies of peasant farmers in the Middle East and elsewhere (Sweet 1970).
In spite of ethnographic variations, agrarian families are recognizable as a type. Throughout the world, these settled institutional families are organized around agricultural production, traditional crafts, or other family business ventures. They have large kinship networks and hierarchical authoritarian governance. These families are producers, employers, consumers, and social welfare agencies in one. Family management tends to be well developed. The highest family value is responsibility (Doherty 1992).
While the maximum kin that one person can keep track of fairly closely has been estimated at 50 (Quale 1988), the traditional hierarchical Yoruba lineage structure (ch. 7), housed from 20 to 2,000 lineage members together in a single walled compound, in which the immediate family units lived and worked in public view under the watchful eye of the compound head. Marriage in institutional families is a functional partnership rather than a romantic relationship. Children tend to be valued as apprentices and next-generation managers of the family lands and enterprises.
Historical and current records indicate, however, that both former and present-day institutional farming families do not usually live in large residential units. The most common dwelling arrangement still is mother, father, and their children; or mother, her children, and others. These small traditional units differ from modern families in part in their economic interdependence with nearby family and community members, and in part in their attitudes towards family life (Hareven 1987).
Evolution of the family
As they evolve, family and community structures adapt to the physical and social conditions of production (Wenke 1984). Similar evolutionary forces lead to changes in family dynamics and in child-rearing practices. Parents adjust their child-rearing behaviour to the risks that they perceive in the environment, the skills that they expect their children to acquire as adults, and the cultural and economic expectations that they have of their children (LeVine 1974; LeVine, Miller, and West 1988). There is a powerful interplay between a society's technology, family structure, and social values.
Yet technology is not a rigid cultural taskmaster. The same production technologies and ecological conditions accommodate variations in family organization, management style, and emotional climate. Within Indonesia, for example, the Javanese are known for their warmth toward young children (ch. 7), whereas the Alorese are reported to be low in child nurturance. In Coastal West Africa, the Yoruba and Ibo of Nigeria have contrasting patrilineal hierarchies, family settlement patterns, and gender roles. The Akan of Ghana are matrilineal by heritage. Americans and Japanese both are industrialized but differ culturally. Similar changes in technology stimulate family change in similar directions but from different starting points and along variable pathways.
The modern family
According to research by Stone (1977), the presence of the modern family in the West was first documented in England in the mid-1600s, at which time the Úlite gradually stopped sending their infants away to be wet-nursed and swaddling of infants declined; there was heightened regard for the infant as a person and the woman's role as a mother; there were new ideals of intimacy and privacy for the couple; and there was growing emphasis on love, personal attraction, and compatibility as the basis for mate selection. Within the next hundred years, these changes gradually became predominant; the young were choosing their own mates even if resorting to pregnancy before marriage was necessary to do so (Dizard and Gadlin 1990, 5-24).
The emphasis on emotional bonds between husband and wife set the modern family off from its predecessors (Stone 1977). The modern family is expected to be emotionally self-sufficient. Other relatives become peripheral, while the bonds among nuclear family members grow more intense and emotional (Burgess and Locke 1953; Dizard and Gadlin 1990, 5-24).
The modern nuclear family was shaped by three sentiments: romantic love between spouses rather than marriage arranged for reasons of property and social status; maternal love, or the idea that women have a maternal instinct and a need to care for young children; and domesticity, or the belief that relationships within the family are always more binding than are those outside it (Elkind 1992). As a family based on the personal satisfaction of its individual members, the modern family also has been termed the psychological family; its chief value is satisfaction (Doherty 1992).
Forces driving family transition
The modern family evolved in concert with industrialization, science, and technology. With the growth of specialized wage labour, economically productive work moved beyond the reach of the family compound. Individualized remuneration and liability led to a redefinition of kinship obligations. The family that was engaged in farming or crafts could be expanded because extra hands could produce extra food and other products. Its boundaries were elastic. The resources of the salaried family and the number of people who could be supported by its wage-earners were fixed. Living space in the neighbourhood of factories and other specialized worksites was expensive and non-expansible. Where neighbours were strangers, the modern family became a "haven in a heartless world" (Lasch 1977).
Even without significant industrial growth, the expansion of global markets, the mass media, the civil service, and other services such as health care, education, and transportation led to the formation of modern families in developing countries. Caldwell and Caldwell (1977) described this change in Nigeria and Ghana as "a movement toward monogamy, a strengthening of the conjugal bond over all others, a strengthening of the parent-child bond over all relationships external to the nuclear family, and ultimately an emphasis on what parents owe children rather than what children owe parents."
Falling birth rates and the death of the institutional family
Falling child death rates lead to falling birth rates, through the sequence of events known as the demographic transition (Caldwell and Caldwell 1990) that occurs under favourable socio-economic conditions. Wherever such fertility control is successful it brings not only fewer children but fewer extended family ties in subsequent generations of children, who have far fewer uncles, aunts, and cousins than their parents' generation. The arithmetic of the demographic transition is such that it is impossible to lower death rates to internationally acceptable levels and simultaneously to control population growth without reducing the number of children per family to an average of two (Zeitlin et al. 1982). With the lure of out-of-family employment, this small number of children is insufficient to sustain the farming or other business enterprises of the institutional family.
Positive links between socio-economic development and the modern family
Optimism and ideology
The modern family came into being with the surge of optimistic thinking that began in the Renaissance and continued through the Industrial Revolution. Human progress, universality of the newly discovered laws of science, and the consistency and regularity of the laws governing the universe were underlying assumptions of this era. Widespread agreement remains today that the modern nuclear family, with its two parents and two or three children, is the ideal end result of progress in the evolution of family forms (Elkind 1992).
Evidence for progress
The modern family's vital statistics are far better than those of the institutional family, and of all previous family forms. Quantum changes in income, mortality rates, life expectancy, nutritional status, educational opportunities, and other indicators of the quality of life occur in response to industrialization, modern health care, education, and other aspects of socio-economic development. It is widely agreed that families are better off with these changes than without them.
The positive effects of change on the modern family mirror negative changes discussed below. Modernization has commercialized many aspects of life that depended previously on much less commercialized exchanges within the traditional extended family and community. On the positive side, expanded communications networks create uniform global value standards in areas such as health care, nutrition, education, and basic human rights (as expressed, for example, in UNICEF's The State of the World's Children, 1992, which asserts that progress is ongoing). These value standards require technologies far exceeding those available to the traditional extended family.
Positive effects of changing child-rearing practices on child development
The ways in which parents train and stimulate their children also change systematically with the modernization of the family. These changes produce children who are more cognitively advanced by modern performance standards and are better nourished, and hence better prepared to participate in the modern workforce. Werner (1979) documented very similar differences in parenting styles between modernizing and traditional parents in the United States (Bronfenbrenner 1963; Becker and Krug 1964); Mexico (Holtzman, Diaz-Guerrerro, and Swartz 1975); Lebanon (Prothro 1962); and Indonesia (Danzinger 1960a, 1960b; Thomas and Surachmad 1962); Nigeria (Lloyd 1966, 1970; LeVine, Klein, and Fries 1967); and Ghana (Grindal 1972). We found evidence of the same differences in the Nigerian and Indonesian data analysed in chapters 6 and 7; these differences were associated with better child growth and cognitive test performance (Zeitlin and Satoto 1990; Aina et al. 1992). We summarize these transformations as follows:
1. A change in parental discipline away from immediate physical punishment to tolerance of slower obedience, but expectation of greater understanding of the reasons for rules.
2. Acceptance of the child's physical dependency up to an older age.
3. More affection and intimacy, a more personal relationship with the father, and more recreation shared by parents and children.
4. Increased verbal responsiveness to the child and use of explanation rather than physical demonstration in teaching.
The first parents to alter their behaviours tend to be members of the Úlite and middle classes, who have the earliest contact with modernization. The same changes later occur as secular trends among less-privileged families. Our research demonstrated that the modernizing changes found in the Úlite families in Ibadan in the 1960s now also are seen among low-income families in Lagos State. The association of these factors with better child growth and cognitive scores tends to confirm the view that parents adopt these styles of interaction because they are adaptive, in that they do improve school achievement and the ability of children to compete in the modern world.
How various aspects of modernization and differences in social class produce changes in child-rearing, and how these changes alter cognitive and other outcomes, are ongoing topics of investigation (Langman 1987). LeVine et al. (1991) documented that increased maternal schooling in Mexico is correlated with increased verbal responsiveness to infants and increased infant care by adults rather than siblings. They explain that
Formal education everywhere ... entails the presence of an adult whose role is entirely instructional, talking to children ... For girls in rural areas of countries where mass schooling is still a relatively recent innovation, this model of social interaction between an adult and children stands in contrast to their previous experience, and in time it reshapes their skills and preferences in social communication ... Identifying with the role of pupil, they continue to seek useful knowledge wherever they can find it; identifying with the role of teacher, they are verbally responsive to their children during infancy and after ... Their children grow up better prepared for school, equipped with verbal skills and with a new set of expectations concerning family life, fertility, parent-child relations, and health care. Thus, women's attendance at school initiates a cumulative process over the generations that contributes to the demographic transition. (LeVine et al. 1991, 492)
Parents need and welcome guidance and assistance in child development. Chapter 6 provides evidence for the effectiveness of early childhood education programmes that assist them in this task. Numerous evaluations of these programmes demonstrate that children's cognitive test scores and school success improve in response to their parent's verbal responsiveness and efforts to provide other forms of developmental stimulation.
Negative effects of development on the family and society
Sociologists, anthropologists, and women's study specialists also have documented negative effects of economic development on the family. Dizard and Gadlin, in their book The Minimal Family (1990), review extensive sociological literature in support of the premise, stated by Hirsch (1976), that the very success of capitalism entails the steady erosion of the "moral legacy" on which capitalism has rested, including the high levels of social responsibility found in the traditional family.
Dizard and Gadlin (1990, 41-42) present a negative view of the changes in family relationships away from cooperative endeavour towards modern goals of emotional fulfilment. They tend to view these changes as negative byproducts of the forced expansion of industrial markets, which must grow at all costs because in the absence of consumers industrial production would fall, unemployment would rise, and people would be unable to meet basic needs.
Commodification of family life
In this view, to remain profitable the economy must expand the sphere of needs that can be met through market-mediated exchanges. The expansion of markets is achieved by rendering more and more of the repertoire of human activity in commodity forms, thereby creating more opportunities for profit (Dizard and Gadlin 1990, 98). This process goes on at the expense of traditional production, economic exchange. entertainment, social support structures, personal relationships, and even biological functions such as breast-feeding.
Promotion of self-centred consumerism
According to this argument, the need to develop consumer markets to sustain the economy of capitalist systems leads not only to nuclear family formation but eventually to expressive, autonomous, and irresponsible individualism. In the upper class, such individualism translates into competitive upward mobility, while in the lower class it becomes "action seeking'? - the constant quest for stimulation and excitement. Both types of individuals tend to have truncated human relationships, which are seen as instrumental rather than as ends in themselves (Dizard and Gadlin 1990, 188). Moreover, the emotional hothouse of the nuclear family tends to corrupt parental love (Dizard and Gadlin 1990, 79-81) by making it contingent on whether the child fulfils the parents' personal expectations.
Dizard and Gadlin (1990, 156) assert that "preparing children for autonomy tends to make them precocious, even unruly, yet there was reason to fear that imposing rules would inhibit or stultify a child's movement toward autonomy." Subjective aspirations for autonomy are reinforced and capitalized upon, literally and figuratively, by an economy whose existence is predicated upon the atrophy of traditional familism.
In the United States, immense advertising budgets for new consumer products have centred on two consuming social units - the nuclear family and the individual (Dizard and Gadlin 1990, 46) - and have not hesitated to awaken and appeal to such anti-family incitements as the desire for extramarital sex to sell products. The individualistic world view of the United States, however, may have created a particularly American experience of capitalism. Dizard and Gadlin (1990, 47) state that the advertising moguls of Madison Avenue were consciously actualizing a way of life that expressed the theories regarding human nature and social organization that were being formulated in esoteric journals and select conferences.
On the negative side the most recent generation of young adults in America. born between 1965 and 1975. may appear to be the endpoint of this course of development. According to the description by Bradford and Raines (1992). the first priority of this group is themselves; they feel cheated by their parents generation; they are materialistic: their adolescence is prolonged. with careers postponed in favour of travel and leisure; they are slow to commit themselves; they question authority and have a disregard for hierarchy. In the Nigerian context, Babatunde (1992) describes a sharp contrast in the essays of Nigerian schoolgirls about their ideal mates, between girls who seek men who can afford expensive consumer goods, versus girls who value a husband who is responsible and has a good character.
Reduction in altruism
In the field of cross-cultural child development, negative effects also have been noted. Whiting and Whiting (1975) studied children's behaviour in six cultures - in Kenya. Mexico. the Philippines, Japan, India, and the United States. They defined altruistic behaviour as actions to benefit another person and egoistic behaviour as actions to benefit the child himself. They found that the most altruistic children were from the most traditional society in rural Kenya and the most egoistic from the most complex modern society in the United States. The other children fell between these extremes according to their degree of modernization.
Focus groups with Lagos residents identified the issue of maintaining discipline and moral training in the presence of modern education and urban life as a major concern, particularly of grandparents who often were involved actively in bringing up their grandchildren (Aina et al. 1992).
Negative outcomes for poor families
The creation of new categories of industrial and post-industrial employment has had different effects on traditional family structures, depending on the numbers and types of jobs available and the employability of the applicants.
As noted above, the agrarian family could support its unskilled and psychologically marginal members by allotting them menial tasks. Such elasticity in African subsistence agriculture is captured in the Ghanaian proverb, "A guest is a guest for three days and then you give him a hoe" (to help on the farm). With departure from the farm, salaried families cannot support poor relatives who are unable to find stable employment. The majority of poor non-farm families often are left in the amorphous non-formal sector of petty trade and services. The non-formal process of living on "magic," as the Ghanaians termed it in the 1981 economic crisis, provides shifting sands for family formation.
Emergence of the modern two-parent nuclear family in developing countries has been primarily a middle-class phenomenon. The poorest classes tend to have high rates of relatively unstable consensual unions, low formal marriage rates, and high divorce rates. The direction taken by the urbanizing family towards an integrated, nuclear, upwardly mobile structure or an unstable female-headed structure may depend on the job success and attitudes of the father in the generation that migrates to the city, as described by Sennett (1970), for nineteenth century US urban migrants. Less successful urbanizing families devolve towards transient, male-headed or small, women-headed units, or extended family clusters in which women and their children are subunits (Buvinic 1992). Over time, women may bear children by different fathers in a manner that optimizes the probability that at least one of the men in their network will be able to provide remittances for child care, or social connections that help them to find a job (Gussler 1975; Guyer 1990). Often, as noted by Rao and Green (1991) in Brazil, women live in unstable consensual unions only because their partners will not agree to formal marriage or cannot afford it. By modern family standards, these irregular units are failed families; post-modern criteria may view them as normal variants (Doherty 1992).
The post-modern family, discussed in detail on pages 25-30, is sometimes termed the pluralistic (Doherty 1992) or permeable family (Elkind 1992). It consists of many small free-flowing groupings that include modern nuclear families; a few traditional families; single parents; blended, co-parent, adopted, test-tube, surrogate-mother, and gay and lesbian families, with or without formal marriage contracts.
Feminization of poverty
Women living alone or with their children are disproportionately represented among the poor. This trend, referred to as the feminization of poverty, may reflect changes in family structure (when nuclear families dissolve, the man usually retains his income and status, whereas the woman and her children enter the lower category of poor female-headed households). But others (Bane 1986) argue that often the underlying cause is poverty: resources for children living in poor female-headed households may be so inadequate that growth and development are adversely affected.
In general, women's economic power has become eroded with technological changes and with improvements in the market activities of poor rural households, which increase men's control over resources and simultaneously undercut women's control (Boserup 1970; Schultz 1989). By unbalancing traditional gender roles, modern agricultural technology may have negative effects on the caring capacity, cooperation between spouses, and emotional climate of families who adopt new cash crops and other technologies.
Female education has been shown to have a positive impact on the growth and development of children in many parts of the world (LeVine et al. 1991). Female education in sub-Saharan Africa, however, leads to the breakdown of the family values and codes of behaviour that govern the cooperative relations between co-wives (Bledsoe 1990), in which the first wife traditionally has seniority and supervisory duties over later wives, the second wife over the third, and so on. Education creates a different hierarchy: a young educated girl considers herself senior to an older, less-educated co-wife. As a mark of success, men now marry new wives who are more educated, socially presentable, and expensive to maintain than their earlier mate(s). With remarriage they cut off, or greatly reduce, support to children by the previous unions.
Negative effects of cultural distance
The greater the cultural distance between previous and new technologies, and between those who provide and those who receive assistance, the more negative the effects of change are likely to be on the family.
Extreme rates of alcoholism among Native Americans, and the hygiene and health problems of nomadic peoples moving into settled housing, are examples of numerous special problems that arise at the far reaches of cultural distance.
Changes in the late- and post-industrial era
The current ground swell of concern for the family in the United States reflects political and linguistic confusion for both conservatives and liberals. This resurgence of interest in the family coincides with an incipient shift away from a capitalistic system that depends for its survival on developing new consumer products that strip the family of its functions, and that are marketed at the expense of family cohesiveness.
New economic focus
The economic focus of the twenty-first century, according to Thurow (1992, 45), will be on new processes, not on new products. The seven key industries of the next few decades - micro-electronics, biotechnology, the materials industries, civilian aviation, telecommunications, robots plus machine tools, and computers plus software - will be brainpower industries that depend for their competitive advantage on new-process technologies and much less on new-product technologies.
These new industries can be located anywhere on the globe. The invention of new products, therefore, no longer leads to sustainable profits because these products can always be copied and reproduced less expensively elsewhere. "What used to be primary (inventing new products) becomes secondary, and what used to be secondary (inventing and perfecting new processes) becomes primary." (ibid.)
Profitability and high-wage employment depend increasingly on producing and marketing new versions of existing products. These existing products are transformed by information technology and biotechnology to be more powerful, efficient, and attractive. The competitive market advantages of the new information processes e.g. facsimile machines built into notebook computers - may have as yet unforeseen transformational effects on lifestyles and values.
Viability in the competition for new processes does not depend on creative autonomy, but on high mathematical and technical skills from the top to bottom of a disciplined workforce. Much of the work involved requires high tolerance for detail and routine. According to Thurow (1992, 52),
If the route to success is inventing new products, the education of the smartest 25 percent of the labor force is critical ... If the route to success is being the cheapest and best producer of products, new or old, the education of the bottom 50 percent moves to center stage ... If the bottom 50 percent cannot learn what must be learned, new high-tech processes cannot be employed ... To learn what must be learned, every worker must have a level of basic mathematics that is far beyond that achieved by most American high school graduates.
Under these global conditions, it is hoped that the profitability of expanding markets for consumer goods at the expense of the family will yield to the profitability of recreating the family as a responsible unit for the production of disciplined children with strong technical skills.
If the highest profits lie in process competition rather than product competition, there also will be a need to develop the market for high-tech processes. This need should drive the education and training of consumers. Some high-tech processes, such as those in supermarket cash registers, reduce the need for thought on the part of the user, but the mastery of computers in the workplace and the home requires disciplined educational effort. This effort is best sustained by cohesive family life.
By constantly updating public awareness and lifestyle values, the new information technology also acts as a balancer between generations. When the older generation is no longer "out of touch," the younger generation loses its need to rebel, and cross-generational family ties may be strengthened. Amidst a glut of electronic images, the need to establish a unique personal identity separate from one's parents becomes less compelling.
Lessons from the East on the implications of the new conditions of production for family life
The fact that Japan has now surpassed the United States in many aspects of industrial and post-industrial development, without experiencing the same breakdown of family structures or the same growth in autonomy, indicates that highly disciplined, authoritarian, pre-industrial families may make the transition to the post-industrial family more efficiently than families that have yielded to the worst excesses of consumer society. The economic miracle currently occurring in Guangdong Province in China and in the "little dragons" of the Pacific Rim (Vogel 1992) - hardly the heartland of individualism - further points to the importance of the simple cause-and-effect relationship between the acquisition of high mathematical skills through the school system and the family, and technological success in process industries that underprice those in the West. Philosophies of early childhood education that prepare children for these process-orientated skills may be very different from the extreme value placed on autonomy, self-expression, and uninhibited inquisitiveness in the United States.
The continued negative commodification of family life and other spheres of human activity that should not be commodified is apparently neither inevitable nor permanent. In the United States, for example, infant formula successfully competes with breast-feeding for close to a 40 per cent share of the newborn market, whereas in Sweden it captures only about 5 per cent.
Japan appears to have achieved economic supremacy in part by incorporating traditional family values into the capitalist production system. In fact, Japan is the only major industrialized country in the world never to have experienced a mass uprising against its feudal aristocracy. The fact that the Japanese aristocracy made a conscious decision to industrialize, leaving in place the psychology of feudalism, hierarchical family and group structures, and the value of subordinating one's ego to the group, worked to Japan's industrial advantage. In Italy, family lifestyles (Pitkin 1986) and the socialization of infants (LeVine, Miller, and West 1988) have responded to changing economic conditions with apparently little disintegration of the traditional family experience.
At the threshold of profound change
By the turn of the twenty-first century, new fibre-optic and other data transmission technologies will increase by a factor of about 60,000 the amount of information that can be carried into homes and offices over computer networks (David Wray, Bolt Beranek and Newman Internet Company 1994, personal communication). This new capacity is bringing down the walls between data, voice, and video communications in a universal network that delivers information of any kind, anywhere - seamlessly. This paradigm is called Total Area ATM Networking. This increased power will reduce so much further the effects of physical distance that its impact on family life cannot yet be imagined. With such communications, a wall in Boston could be opened visually into a house in London, and the occupants could sit facing each other and talk over dinner. An adult could supervise the care of an elderly parent confined to a nursing home or monitor a babysitter in another town. Work colleagues in separate locations will be able to converse face to face on computer screens while editing the same document on their computers. Such developments could greatly increase the ease with which multinational corporations relocate activities to take advantage of the world's cheapest labour markets. They also could make physical togetherness much less necessary for family members, leading to greatly accelerated fragmentation of the post-modern type described in the next section. The impact of these changes is predicted to be as profound as was the shift from agrarian to industrial society (Dertouzos 1989).
Contents - Previous - Next