Beki Grinter

TCP/IP in the Home: Time to Account for Digital Housework

In discipline, empirical, research, women on August 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Studies of the hours spent on typically unpaid domestic labor have been with us for some decades. Perhaps not unsurprisingly one group of people who were interested in this were feminists, trying to understand the totality of work. Over time the data shows a dramatic shift, for women, from unpaid work in the home to paid work outside. It also shows that over time men have taken up more of the unpaid work of the home, but women still do the majority (Bianchi, Milkie, Sayer, & Robinson, 2000; Fisher, Egerton, Gershuny, & Robinson, 2007; Robinson & Godbey, 1997). The most recent studies suggest that cooking and childcare are increasingly shared within the home, but that women remain largely responsible for cleaning (Fisher, et al., 2007; Krantz-Kent, 2009), while other studies suggest that as women’s earnings rise, so the balance begins to change with women taking on more traditionally male activities (Gupta, Sayer, & Cohen, 2009). Research also shows that men are often more responsible for household management activities such as outdoor and household maintenance and financial tasks (Krantz-Kent, 2009).

But, in my opinion something is missing from the list of what is counted: digital housework.

I lead some of the earliest empirical research into the time and pain associated with home networking. We defined a home network as being more than one device sharing the same network connection, although even in 2004 when the study was conducted, we saw some far more complex set ups. And yes, usability is a huge issue. Simply put if you take hardware and software that was initially designed for the military and academy (the ARPAnet), and then ask householders to use those same technologies you’re going to run into problems. (Does your Dad understand NAT? Just saying.)

And yet more and more people are getting home networks. And someone is spending time with them… lots of time in fact. Time spent in a very unproductive relationship, one in which the home network defies the householders. Time spent figuring out whether the problem can be solved, who can solve it… and yet that time remains entirely unaccounted for in studies of what people spend time on in the home. At Georgia Tech I have colleagues (Keith, Nick, Erika, Marshini) who are interested in this problem from all sorts of perspectives (a good thing because we are going to need multiple perspectives).

In addition to working to reduce this problem, I think we need to account for this form of labor. Who’s ripping the CD’s and DVD’s so that they can be ported onto the iPad, who’s trying to decide how to upgrade the network to accommodate a new device, while simultaneously determining how to preserve connectivity for the legacy machines, who’s troubleshooting the lack of bandwidth or what application/person is consuming it, and how much time is it taking. It’s not just about the problems of course, but the problems make the need to account more significant I would argue, but I want to know who is doing this work and how much time it is taking.

Bianchi, S. M., Milkie, M. A., Sayer, L. C., & Robinson, J. P. (2000). Is Anyone Doing the Housework?  Trends in the Gender Division of Household Labor. Social Forces, 79(1), 191-228.

Fisher, K., Egerton, M., Gershuny, J. I., & Robinson, J. P. (2007). Gender Convergence in the American Heritage Time Use Study (AHTUS). Social Indicators Research, 82, 1-33.

Gupta, S., Sayer, L. C., & Cohen, P. N. (2009). Earning and the Stratification of Unpaid Time Among U.S. Women. Social Indicators Research, 93, 153-157.

Krantz-Kent, R. (2009). Measuring Time Spent in Unpaid Household Work: Results from the American Time Use Survey. Monthly Labor Review, 132(7), 46-49.

Robinson, J. P., & Godbey, G. (1997). Time for Life: The Surprising ways Americans Use their Time. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.


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