thesis project motivations

The motivations for this project came from a desire to help families stay connected even after children leave home. Dinnertime activities are seldom referenced as prominent childhood memories, but having family dinner influences future connections both within families and with friends outside the home. The stark contrast of families who have dinner every night together and those who are too busy to take an active interest in each other’s lives points to a distinct opportunity for Design.

This project is about dinner and dual-income families. ‘Traditional families’ have one bread-winner and one bread-maker, regardless of gender. Dual-income families have two bread-winners. Dual-income families account for almost 50% of US households (A.T. Kearney, 1999; as cited in Whipple, 2000). These families are under significant time pressure, and as such, spend less time preparing in-homes meal and more time eating away from home (Whipple, 2000).

The rise in dual income families has changed how people address dinner. As time becomes more important than money, more and more families are dining out (Whipple, 2000). Supermarkets/food retailers capture only 55% of the total money spent on food. The most striking example of this change is that 40% of U.S. consumer do not know by 4pm what they will eat for dinner that evening (Spethmann, 1997; as cited in Whipple, 2000).

Preparing for the evening meal is currently the busiest time of day (Beech, 2004).

Dual-income families also have to combat their constant ‘busyness’ (Darrah, 2001; 2003). Families are constantly juggling tasks and role-contexts. Darrah gives an example of switching between confirming grocery list, emailing for a client/customer problem, and reporting to the boss (2001).

Families have adopted high-tech communication methods to help address logistics, often sharing work and home channels across roles, but this has only increased busyness. Advancement in time management technologies have also increased the amount one family member can accomplish at one time. To compensate, families created communication strategies, such as let’s talk everyday at noon (Darrah, 2001).

One key motivation from Darrah: families think of themselves as planners or improvisers. But in reality families cannot place themselves into one categoryÑimprovising families needed enough of a plan to improvise from, and planning families had to deal with deviations (Darrah, 2001).

Darrah contends busyness comes from (i) deregulation that has ’empowered’ infinite choice (healthcare, travel, telecom, etc.) (ii) new consumer markets, (iii) tech communication advances that have broken down traditionally separate spheres, (iv) fear of job loss and increased productivity that have increased work efforts, (v) a 24/7 world and all the people needed to run it (Darrah, 2003).

The mastery of busyness is the means to reach an end and not an end itself. Management becomes the metaphor for the life well lived (Darrah, 2003).

There is a deeply embedded desire in American society to provide a home cooked meal prepared from scratch. This is portrayed as the highest form of love a parent can provide for a child (Whipple, 2000). This latent desire has been around for generations and espoused through the media.

dinnertime activities

Americans converse during dinner: catching up on the day’s events, discussing news of the world, storytelling, solving problems, family planning as well as family arguments and conflict (Snow & Beals, as cited in Larson, 2006).

Through family mealtime activities and conversation, family members often enact and reaffirm cultural meanings, values, ideals, as well as create new shared meanings (Larson 2006).

In telling inside stories and jokes, doing things in a certain ritual way, or acting out family tensions, members create and reinforce a particular family identity (Fiese et al., in Larson, 2006).

Mealtimes provide opportunities for parents to model, coach, monitor, and control children’s behavior, as well as opportunities for children to be apprentices in meaningful activities. It is sometimes the only time parents have their kids as a captive audience (Larson, 2006).

See Larson (2006; introduction) for a detailed discussion of how mealtimes mitigate, cultural socialization, literacy and academic outcomes, risk behavior and socioemotional development, and nutritional habits during childhood and adulthood.

It is important to note that the working and living environments where we currently reside is changing. This project conceptualizes what a small component of a future smarthome might be like. Design goals, considerations and implementations take into account that homes of the future will have embedded sensors and will be able to communicate with its inhabitants as well as other technologies and services within the home.