A 2006 New Zealand study on technology and family life found that much more research is needed on the role of digital communication and family life. In this study, Ann Weatherall and Annabel Ramsay report that a 2004 review found "a reasonable amount is known about the roles of media technologies in children's and adults' lives, but rather less is known about their roles in family relationships and family life" (p. 7). Informants in the New Zealand study "echoed a sentiment in the literature that there is a need for more research on new ICTs [Information and Communication Technology] and families" and stated the need for "in-depth ethnographic work examining families' use of ICTs" (p. 24).


In 2009, the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies published a special issue that focuses on the family and communication technologies—an issue that in some ways addressed the concerns in the New Zealand study. This journal issue considered interdisciplinary work highly important, but its focus was the "theory and practice of innovative interactive systems” ("Aims and Scope” para. 1). In the call for this special issue, the editors were looking for "researchers and designers keen to create task-based products” and those who could "foster a scientific understanding of how communication technologies impact upon family life” (Little, 2008, para. 1).


In their editorial introduction to the issue, Linda Little, Elizabeth Sillence, Abigail Sellen, and Alex Taylor (2009) argued that researchers and developers need to "consider family relationships across time, space and generations” (p. 125). Despite this issue's emphasis on usage statistics and design concerns, concerns quite different from that of rhetoricians and compositionists, some of the issue’s articles edge toward overlapping concerns. John Bonner (2009) wrote

There has been very little research on the meaningfulness of domestic communication technologies in terms of their content. Current research has focussed [sic] on building and understanding alternative, mixed and novel interaction styles, but little has been achieved in exploring if mediated communication affects domestic moral values, although some work has begun in commercial environments. (p. 220)

Bonner’s consideration of ubiquitous computing in the home concludes that designers and researchers need to pay attention to the "mundane” opportunities for incremental change (p. 220). Unfortunately, his concerns about content and values are left hanging.


Patrick Olivier and Jayne Wallace based their article on the idea that a “sense of self develops through our relationships with other [family] members…, our place within the network and through our appreciation of both our uniqueness and sameness” (p. 206). Family communication, they continue, provides us with important grounding: "Understanding how we came to be, accounts of lives before we were born, and stories of the family within and beyond living memory, all add to our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world” (p. 206). This emphasis on family as an emotional unit concludes, as do most of the articles in the issue, calling for a different approach in the design of new digital communication devices and interfaces. Despite their emphasis on design of devices and interfaces, Oliver and Wallace’s focus on the importance of family communication overlaps somewhat with our goals. The understanding, stories, and the sense of self that develops through the family communication network hints at the focus of our research—the family as a rhetorical unit—the family as the first communication classroom.