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This is the pre-print version of: Lim, S. S. & Wang, Y. (2021). Lessons from our living rooms:
Illuminating lockdowns with technology domestication insights. Journal of Children and Media.
Lessons from our living rooms: Illuminating lockdowns with
technology domestication insights
Sun Sun Lim & Wang Yang, Singapore University of Technology and Design
With at least half of humanity under lockdown to arrest the spread of Covid-19 (Sandford,
2020), adults have been working from home and children engaging in home schooling for
months on end. Competing for scarce resources such as digital devices, bandwidth, as well
as physical and personal space, families have had to contend with rising tensions around the
quality of digital engagement, children’s learning abilities, parent-child relationships and
overall familial wellbeing.
This fraught situation shone the spotlight on the household context of technology use but
also enabled us to marshal academic insights to advance advocacy and public education.
The pandemic also forced us to confront the limitations of our research approach and adapt
our methods to evolving uncertainties. We share our experiences here so that the lessons we
learnt may be of help to fellow CAM scholars.
Societal engagement and CAM research
In the wake of domestic issues emerging from the lockdown, families in Singapore struggled
to make sense of this new reality. As a technology domestication scholar, author Lim
received multiple media interview requests for expert guidance on how families could
juggle conflicting technological needs in the home. To provide more comprehensive advice,
she published opinion-editorials in popular media outlets that reached a wide audience in
Singapore and beyond (Lim, 2020a; Yee & Lim, 2020). These were vital opportunities to
demonstrate the relevance of CAM research and the technology domestication approach.
Webinars were another critical way to engage directly with the audience in a dynamic,
dialogical manner while under lockdown. Author Lim was invited by public agencies and
non-profit organisations to offer guidance through platforms such as Zoom or Facebook
Live. Questions posed by webinar attendees revealed considerable distress around
managing children’s healthy device use, moderating over-reliance on technology, and
resolving family tensions. Audience members were often reassured when told that their
situations were neither unique nor unusual, and welcomed suggestions for effective
management strategies. This opportunity to speak directly to families and answer parents
burning questions allowed academic research to come into its own, offering authoritative
and timely support to critical audiences. Even in lockdown therefore, all scholars can still
mobilise academic research findings to offer useful lessons by beaming live from our living
rooms.
Whereas technology use in the homes of families with children is often understood through
the media effects or parental mediation paradigms (Livingstone, 2002), the extraordinary
nature of these lockdowns brought to the fore the value of technology domestication
research. Rather than focusing specifically on particular devices, content or parental
mediation activities, technology domestication research assumes a contextual approach to
understanding how technology is incorporated into familial rhythms and enmeshed in
family relationships with their attendant power dynamics (Lim, 2016). It emphasizes the
dynamic reciprocal relationship between the user and the technology (Morley & Silverstone,
1990; Silverstone et al., 1992), drawing our attention to how use practices are embedded in
This is the pre-print version of: Lim, S. S. & Wang, Y. (2021). Lessons from our living rooms:
Illuminating lockdowns with technology domestication insights. Journal of Children and Media.
and shaped by the domestic environment, as well as how values, norms and tensions can
emerge around technology use.
The domestication perspective allows CAM research to steer away from more
technologically deterministic models to actively foreground the symbolic meanings and
social relationships that emerge from the use of household technologies. In the current
pandemic situation, this contextual perspective can help CAM scholars identify potential
gains and pitfalls in families’ technology use and inform the development of appropriate
strategies to better navigate escalated work-life blending.
Relatedly, we could also leverage our technology domestication insights to make a
significant policy intervention on the digital divides that emerged from the lockdown. In a
speech to Parliament in her capacity as Nominated Member of Parliament, author Lim
highlighted the need to extend greater device and online access support to digitally
excluded families given domestic tensions around household resource constraints (Lim,
2020b). This was another instance in which the utility of CAM research was clearly
highlighted.
Conducting CAM research during a pandemic
Turning the lenses onto our own living rooms, we realised that as academics, our research
approach also had to adapt to the changing circumstances. Unable to visit families in China
to extend our research on transcendent parenting (Lim, 2020c) trends, we quickly pivoted to
online methods. Transitioning from face-to-face fieldwork before the Covid-19 outbreak to
online methods during the lockdown, our qualitative study offered a valuable inroad for
comparing face-to-face and virtual methods for CAM research. For our study, we had
planned to investigate digital parenting experiences in the two Chinese metropolises of
Hangzhou and Beijing.
In mid-2019, we had travelled to Hangzhou and completed face-to-face interviews with 40
parents. Although the trip to Beijing was cancelled due to pandemic restrictions, we
managed to complete the research as scheduled by switching to online interviews. Without
the benefit of face-to-face communication however, we needed to consider how to leverage
online means to capture domestic settings, household dynamics and socioemotional issues
arising from families’ technology use. Author Wang also arranged follow-up interviews
with 20 Hangzhou parents to gain comparative insights into digital parenting experiences
before and during lockdown. The interviews took the form of video or audio calls via the
instant messaging platform WeChat, supplemented with photograph or screenshot taking
by the participants.
Compared to face-to-face interactions, online methods pose considerable challenges due to
the loss of contextual details, while offering unique advantages owing to their flexibility and
convenience. With online interviews, we found it more challenging to build rapport with
participants. As a result, the Beijing parents we interviewed online tended to only accept
voice calls so their facial expressions and gestures could not be captured. It also became
difficult to obtain direct and real-time access to the mobile apps and contents in the
participants’ devices, requiring us to rely exclusively on participants’ self-reporting.
Despite these limitations, online interviews also presented significant advantages for CAM
studies. They could on occasion provide valuable and unexpected insights into the domestic
This is the pre-print version of: Lim, S. S. & Wang, Y. (2021). Lessons from our living rooms:
Illuminating lockdowns with technology domestication insights. Journal of Children and Media.
settings of ICT use, typically inaccessible during face-to-face interviews conducted outside
the home. Specifically, as most participants fielded the online interviews at home, they could
easily show us the digital devices they used and the physical settings surrounding
technology use. The interviews were invariably interspersed with participants’ daily
activities, such as supervising children’s online classes, sending work-related messages,
preparing meals etc. This allowed us to glean insights into their parenting and working
practices. Participants also found online interviews preferable as they could take the
interview anytime and anywhere without significant disruptions to their schedules.
Notably, some participants also reported feeling more at ease during online interviews
because they could choose to remain visually anonymous.
Suggestions for future CAM research
From our societal engagement and research experiences since the Covid-19 outbreak, we
propose some longer-term suggestions for CAM research even beyond the pandemic. First,
the aggressive encroachment of technology into homes means that CAM research has
assumed intensified salience and relevance. By direct engagement via public forums such as
interviews and commentaries in popular media, webinars for the public and interfacing with
policy makers, we can ensure that CAM research can benefit our key stakeholders and
influence public policy for the better. Second, in light of pandemic restrictions, we suggest
adopting a wider range of online methods for CAM studies, including but not limited to
virtual observation over webcams, participant-administered media diaries, and media use
tracking apps. In addition, given the multifarious advantages of online methods, a strategic
combination of face-to-face and online methods is likely to become the default paradigm of
CAM research even post-Covid-19.
We hope our reflections have served to capture some helpful experiences on the invaluable
role that CAM research has played during the pandemic, and to offer some pointers on
conducting research in the midst of lockdowns and disease containment restrictions.
This is the pre-print version of: Lim, S. S. & Wang, Y. (2021). Lessons from our living rooms:
Illuminating lockdowns with technology domestication insights. Journal of Children and Media.
References
Lim, S. S. (2020a, April 8). The joys and frustrations of home-based learning. Channel
NewsAsia. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/home-
based-learning-covid-19-coronavirus-singapore-tips-parents-12618236
Lim, S. S. (2020b, May 26). “Closing the Digital Divide for SGUnited: Learnings from
COVID-19.” Singapore Parliament Debates, 94(2). Retrieved from
https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/sprs3topic?reportid=matter-adj-1401
Lim, S. S. (2020c). Transcendent parenting: Raising children in the digital age. Oxford University
Press.
Lim, S. S. (Ed.). (2016). Mobile communication and the family: Asian experiences in technology
domestication. Springer.
Livingstone, S. (2002). Young people and new media: Childhood and the changing media
environment. Sage.
Morley, D., & Silverstone, R. (1990). Domestic communication technologies and meanings.
Media, Culture & Society, 12(1), 3155.
Sandford, A. (2020, April 3). Coronavirus: Half of humanity now on lockdown as 90
countries call for confinement. Retrieved from
https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/02/coronavirus-in-europe-spain-s-death-toll-hits-10-
000-after-record-950-new-deaths-in-24-hou
Silverstone, R., Hirsch, E., & Morley, D. (1992). Information and communication
technologies and the moral economy of the household. In R. Silverstone & E. Hirsch (Eds.),
Consuming technologies: Media and information in domestic spaces (pp. 917). London; New
York: Routledge.
Yee, A., & Lim, S. S. (2020, March 24). Stuck at home due to Covid-19, should parents cut
some slack on kids’ screen time? TODAY. Retrieved from
https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/stay-at-home-covid-19-parents-cut-kids-screen-
time-school-singapore
... Sin embargo, la pandemia provocada por el SARS-CoV-2 y las estrategias de confinamiento adoptadas para enfrentarla, especialmente en la fase inicial de su desarrollo, volvieron obvia la importancia del estudio de los procesos de domesticación de tecnologías en los ámbitos domésticos y en el entrelazamiento de actividades laborales, de estudio y familiares. Como observan Lim y Wang (2021), la pandemia dio una especial visibilidad a esta corriente de investigación, bajo la modalidad de las consultas que los medios y los decisores políticos realizaron a los especialistas, al tiempo que forzaba -con ventajas y desventajas-un pasaje hacia la mediatización metodológica (Lim & Wang, 2021;Watson et al., 2021). La acumulación de investigaciones en la perspectiva también permitió enfrentar, no siempre de manera totalmente exitosa, los discursos que pusieron el foco público exclusivamente en los riesgos de la digitalización y el incremento en el uso de dispositivos (Hantrais et al., 2021), desconociendo la capacidad de agencia de los usuarios y las familias. ...
Article
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Ya han transcurrido veinticinco años desde que Roger Silverstone y otros investigadores propusieran a la domesticación —es decir, el proceso por el cual una especie animal o vegetal es transformada con el objeto de convivir con el ser humano— como una metáfora apropiada para comprender los modos en que los dispositivos tecnológicos son incorporados a la vida cotidiana de las personas, iniciando así el recorrido del modelo de domesticación de tecnologías. Esta propuesta resultó sumamente productiva en términos teóricos y empíricos, dando lugar a un conjunto de reflexiones e indagaciones que se convirtieron en parte del trasfondo habitual de la investigación acerca de los procesos de apropiación de tecnologías que se realiza desde una perspectiva sociocultural. Esta revisión presenta los principales lineamientos de su enfoque, reseña los resultados de las investigaciones que ha suscitado y discute sus límites y las adaptaciones necesarias para dar cuenta de los fenómenos tecnocomunicativos actuales
... Sin embargo, la pandemia provocada por el SARS-CoV-2 y las estrategias de confinamiento adoptadas para enfrentarla, especialmente en la fase inicial de su desarrollo, volvieron obvia la importancia del estudio de los procesos de domesticación de tecnologías en los ámbitos domésticos y en el entrelazamiento de actividades laborales, de estudio y familiares. Como observan Lim y Wang (2021), la pandemia dio una especial visibilidad a esta corriente de investigación, bajo la modalidad de las consultas que los medios y los decisores políticos realizaron a los especialistas, al tiempo que forzaba -con ventajas y desventajas-un pasaje hacia la mediatización metodológica (Lim & Wang, 2021;Watson et al., 2021). La acumulación de investigaciones en la perspectiva también permitió enfrentar, no siempre de manera totalmente exitosa, los discursos que pusieron el foco público exclusivamente en los riesgos de la digitalización y el incremento en el uso de dispositivos (Hantrais et al., 2021), desconociendo la capacidad de agencia de los usuarios y las familias. ...
Preprint
Esta es la versión electrónica de un artículo aceptado para su edición en Contratexto nº 37, el cual estará disponible online en la web oficial en 2022 Resumen. Ya han transcurrido veinticinco años desde que Roger Silverstone y otros investigadores relacionados con él propusieran a la domesticación, es decir el proceso por el cual una especie animal o vegetal es transformada con el objeto de convivir con el ser humano, como una metáfora apropiada para comprender los modos en los cuales los dispositivos tecnológicos son incorporados a la vida cotidiana de las personas, iniciando el recorrido del modelo de domesticación de tecnologías. Esta propuesta resultó sumamente productiva en términos teóricos y empíricos, dando lugar a un conjunto de reflexiones e indagaciones y convirtiéndose de hecho en parte del background habitual de la investigación sobre los procesos de apropiación de tecnologías que se realiza desde una perspectiva sociocultural. En este artículo nos proponemos presentar los principales lineamientos de su enfoque, reseñar los resultados de las investigaciones a que ha dado lugar y discutir sus límites y las adaptaciones necesarias para dar cuenta de los fenómenos tecnocomunicativos actuales.
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This volume captures the domestication of mobile communication technologies by families in Asia, and its implications for family interactions and relationships. It showcases research on families across a spectrum of socio-economic profiles, from both rural and urban areas, offering insights on children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. While mobile communication diffuses through Asia at a blistering pace, families in the region are also experiencing significant changes in light of unprecedented economic growth, globalisation, urbanisation and demographic shifts. Asia is therefore at the crossroads of technological transformation and social change. This book analyses the interactions of these two contemporaneous trends from the perspective of the family, covering a range of family types including nuclear, multi-generational, transnational, and multi-local, spanning the continuum from the media-rich to the media have-less.
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Análisis sobre las relaciones cada vez más complejas entre las audiencias infantiles y adolescentes, los medios de comunicación, la familia y el hogar, apoyada en evidencias empíricas referentes primordialmente a los medios y públicos de Gran Bretaña.
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Whether members of the family are headed to school or work, smartphones accompany family members throughout the day. The growing sophistication of mobile communication has unleashed a proliferation of apps, channels, and platforms that link parents to their children and the key institutions in their lives. While parents may feel empowered by their ability to provide their children assistance with a click on their smartphone, they may also feel pressured and overwhelmed by this need to always be on call for their children. This book focuses on the phenomenon of transcendent parenting, where parents actively use technology to go beyond traditional, physical practices of parenting. In drawing on the experiences of intensely digitally-connected families in Singapore to tell a global story, Sun Sun Lim argues how transcendent parenting can embody and convey, intentionally or not, the parenting priorities in these households. Chapters outline how parents exploit mobile connectivity to transcend the physical distance between themselves and their children, the online and offline social interaction environments, and the timelessness of seemingly ceaseless parenting. Transcendent Parenting further explores how mobile communication allows parents to be more involved than ever in their children's lives, leaving readers to question whether or not parents have become too involved as a result. With its clear discussions of the effects of transcendent parenting on parents' wellbeing and children's personal development, Transcendent Parenting will appeal to a broad audience of readers, from scholars, educators and policy makers to parents and young people across the globe.
The joys and frustrations of home-based learning. Channel NewsAsia
  • S S Lim
Lim, S. S. (2020a, April 8). The joys and frustrations of home-based learning. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/homebased-learning-covid-19-coronavirus-singapore-tips-parents-12618236
Closing the digital divide for SGUnited: Learnings from COVID-19
  • S S Lim
Lim, S. S. (2020b, May 26). "Closing the Digital Divide for SGUnited: Learnings from COVID-19." Singapore Parliament Debates, 94(2). Retrieved from https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/sprs3topic?reportid=matter-adj-1401
Coronavirus: Half of humanity now on lockdown as 90 countries call for confinement
  • A Sandford
Sandford, A. (2020, April 3). Coronavirus: Half of humanity now on lockdown as 90 countries call for confinement. Retrieved from https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/02/coronavirus-in-europe-spain-s-death-toll-hits-10-000-after-record-950-new-deaths-in-24-hou
Stuck at home due to Covid-19, should parents cut some slack on kids’ screen time? TODAY
  • A Yee
  • S S Lim
Yee, A., & Lim, S. S. (2020, March 24). Stuck at home due to Covid-19, should parents cut some slack on kids' screen time? TODAY. Retrieved from https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/stay-at-home-covid-19-parents-cut-kids-screentime-school-singapore