Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
With the introduction of ever more sophisticated smartphones and tablets into the market, and the availability of some of the most amazing apps out there, it should come as no surprise just how dramatically technology has transformed the family. Today, there may actually be more communication between parents and kids, even though much of that communication is via text messages.
Televisions have been replaced by streaming Netflix movies on the family computer. Family game night using board games has been replaced by family game night with the Xbox Kinect. Organizing and scheduling a family has been transformed from paper checklists into an ever-growing selection of amazing organizational smartphone apps.
These days, women that are running a family are filling more roles than ever before. Women may have to manage a career, survive as a student, manage a household, raise children, or maybe even all of the above. The balancing act that so many women manage is finally made at least a little bit easier by the latest technologies that are available – but just how much have those technologies changed what being a “mom” looks like, especially if that mom is a true tech geek?
To explore that question, I went out in search of at least one or two moms within my own social networks, to get a feel for what motherhood looks like in today’s high-technology world. My queries turned up a number of geek moms, and two of them were willing to chat with me about how technology plays into their daily lives.
Monica – Journalist and Mom
Monica Pettengill Jerkins is a professional journalist for a local Maine weekly print publication called Fiddlehead Focus – a news outlet that includes an online presence. Monica is the editor of Fiddlehead Focus, and manages not only developing news stories for the publication, but also maintains the social presence for the news outlet.
In addition to her editing work, Monica is a mom of what she calls “three socially active daughters”, and technology plays a big part in the family. Every child and parent has a cell phone, and Monica uses technology like Skype to conduct interviews, and online calendars to manage the entire family schedule. I was keen to understand how a busy editor and mother would make use of the technologies that are available today to run such a busy life.
Ryan: In maintaining your home life – like managing appointments for kids, cooking, etc… can you describe what device you use and what specific apps you use for those things?
Monica: I use calendars on my phone, computer and Kindle. On my computer, I use Outlook calendar. For work, I keep track of what’s going on in the St. John Valley with our community calendar on Fiddlehead Focus. I check it every day to make sure I have reporters covering everything. I should note, I’m a crazy calendar person. I also maintain a paper calendar just in case something ever goes wrong with my electronics.
Ryan: You mentioned your daughters and you keep in touch via cell phones – do you find it’s mostly standard text messaging and phone calls or do you sometimes use online IM systems or anything like that to stay in touch when they’re not home?
Monica: I text my girls all the time. It’s how we track who is driving who where and who needs to be where when. We text almost constantly. It doesn’t matter if they are in school, at work, or at home. Sometimes, I even text my oldest to ask her to come down from her room for a face-to-face chat. My middle daughter prefers email, so I do a lot of that with her. Otherwise, it’s mostly texting.
Ryan: How involved would you say you are in your kids online lives when it comes to things like Facebook and social media?
Monica: I wouldn’t say that my girls particularly “welcome” us into their online world, but we’ve always monitored their activity. We have a list of their passwords and make it very clear to them that we will check up on them. I had to take away my youngest daughter’s Facebook for a while because it became very apparent that she was too young to understand the danger. We learned that by monitoring her activity.
The Internet has made life much more convenient in some ways, and more scary in others. The world is much smaller than it used to be. I think it’s dangerous if parents are naive about their kids’ Internet activity. Also, I try not to use social media, like Facebook, to embarrass my girls. I’m ever conscious of the fact that things we post are seen by many people. So I keep my private comments to them off of their walls where friends can see, and I encourage them to be careful with what kinds of things they post also.
Ryan: As a journalist, what computer software or apps would you say are central to your work?
Monica: As editor for Fiddlehead Focus, I use several Microsoft programs daily, such as Publisher, Excel, and Word. Some of my reporters use Open Office to do their writing. I manage story assignments and such using a calendar. Of course, we use the Internet for research (finding phone numbers, emails, etc. historical data, etc.) but we also use dictionary and thesaurus apps and programs such as IClipart, Zenfolio, Picasa photo editing software for cropping and lightening, and Google maps for map creation. Part of my job as editor (which is fashioned a bit differently than a traditional editor simply because of the small size of our start-up company) is to manage our social media presence. I always have Facebook open. I link stories from our site and monitor other news agencies’ sites for breaking news or interesting stories that I think our readers may appreciate.
I use our Facebook page to create a personal and human voice in our community. It’s a bit novel for news outlets to show a more human side, but Facebook allows us that opportunity. It may not work for a larger metropolitan area, but it works well for small town community journalism. We can say things like, “Congratulations,” and “We’re sad to report,” and “Tell us what you think.” I really value the feedback we receive from our readership also. It helps us make decisions and has proved a useful tool. Also, I should mention that the world of Internet and social media has really made news an instant gratification thing. If sirens go by someone’s house, they’ll post on Facebook, “Does anyone know what’s happening on such-and-such a road? Sirens just raced by.”
In that regard, Facebook has even worked as a source for us. We investigate and if it’s anything worth reporting, we do. People also text us when there is breaking news. I have a few sources, some of which are fire fighters, who text me the second they receive a call. We have actually pulled up to a structure fire scene with the fire trucks before. Technology has changed the way journalists work.
Ryan: Can you share any experiences you had in your blogging work or journalism work that you think is a bit unique because you’re a woman vs. how men approach stories or technologies differently?
Monica: I think blogging has changed some as women have become more active bloggers. I think we write about what interests us and other women. Most women bloggers I know write about family matters or share their experiences in the garden. Reading blogs, to me, is the new magazine. I can find a whole lot of blogs on just about any topic of interest out there. It’s so easy to do, and you can write while wearing your pjs at home. I think blogging has provided stay-at-home moms something new as well – an outlet. When I tried to be a stay-at-home mom years ago when my kids were younger, my biggest complaint was that I felt a bit claustrophobic. Like I never left my house or had conversations with adults. I can see how blogging might be a nice way to reach out and have that adult contact and expression.
Ryan: In your switch over to Kindle, do you feel that you lost anything by switching over from books?
Monica: I do miss books. I mean, real books. The kind you hold in your hand and hide under the blankets with a flashlight to read. I love to read. I’ve read hundreds of books since I was a kid. When you pick up a book and start your journey with its first words, it’s a lot like meeting a new friend or starting a new relationship. I have a hard time putting a book down. It’s a bit easier to put the book away with my Kindle, though. I think it’s because my eyes get tired looking at the screen. I look at a screen all day. But, on the flip side, I can put the Kindle in my purse and bring an entire library with me wherever I go. If I have five minutes, then I can pull it out and read for a few. There are pros and cons I suppose. But I do love the feel of a book in my hands and the smell of the paper and ink.
Misty – Mother, Student, Teacher & Graphic Advertising Consultant
Misty Tillman is one of the busiest women I’ve ever met. She is a mother and a full-time student. On top of that, she works as a substitute teacher, and as a consultant in the field of graphic design. She uses technology in more ways than I think most people even consider, and is an extremely ultra-organized person. I was very excited to receive a message from Misty after my query for geeky moms, particularly because I was curious how technology helped her to maintain her absolutely insane schedule.
Ryan: In maintaining your home life – like cleaning, appointments for kids, cooking – can you describe what device you use (computer, phone, etc) and what specific apps you use for those?
Misty: As a mother of 3 and wife of one I have many responsibilities in order to keep up with our busy family. I primarily depend upon an Android smartphone, laptop and a Google Nexus 7 tablet. The number of applications, programs and features I use allow me to assure everyone and everything remains organized, on schedule, and financially responsible.
I have a Verizon Android Razor smart phone, which could be referred to as my “brain”. My memory is terrible, but with my smartphone by my side, I can easily remind myself of what appointments each family member has for the week, which days I’m needed to work as a substitute teacher, which days my homework is due for my Master’s Program at Ashford University, pet’s appointments any and all special events or upcoming plans. I am a planner-type personality. Without the organizational factor, my stress level would be through the roof. The Schedule Planner app [No longer available] allows me the capability to write details by week and by day for further detail or quick memo notes.
The ColorNote Notepad app allows me to make quick notes of details for quick reference, such as thinking of a bill that needs to be paid or an item that needs to be put on the grocery list. A more detailed application that I use is “Bill Pay” to pay bills, or get reminders of when bills are due. This simple app helps me continue to improve my credit from my mistakes of yester-years.
Ryan: You mentioned that you don’t bother with a house phone – do you all use cell phones, or use computer voice calling or anything else?
Misty: Aside from my necessary apps mentioned above, my cell phone is lets me stay up to date on family members on Facebook, and news from sites such as CNN.com. I also use games to keep my mind sharp. With my daughter and husband having cell phones as well, we are able to text or call to keep in touch and to all stay aware of our responsibilities – which helps us all avoid wasted time, gas and stress.
With these technological innovations which we’ve become so dependent on, I see no point in wasting the money for a land line house phone. We never used our house phone; due to the fact that we are rarely home long enough to be caught by someone trying to get a hold of us. In fact even when we are home, we don’t care to be bothered. With the smartphones, we merely turn the ringer off and either check the voicemail or text when we choose to do so. For communication, we solely use smartphones and the Internet on our two HP Pavilion DV6s. Our laptops allow us to use social media networks to keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues.
We’re also both online students. I am working on my Masters, and my husband is working on his Bachelor’s degree. We both chose to attend online educational organizations so we can keep a flexible schedule, rather than attending an on-campus facility. My computer is really my one stop shop. I check all news, events, family happenings, available job openings, research for school work, search tips for cleaning, recipes, pay bills, review bank accounts, keep track of children’s grades and correspond with teachers.
Ryan: You mentioned your daughter keeps you posted with her tablet, can you describe what app she uses to do that?
Misty: I purchased a Google Nexus 7 Tablet for our daughter for Christmas. The tablet allows her a social outlet, yet we are able to monitor all of her activity with Parental Control monitoring. As her parents, we allow her the space to grow and flourish using the Internet for social and educational uses. When our daughter has social or extracurricular activities, she typically has both her cell phone and tablet on her, so I have multiple ways to get a hold of her. Sometimes when I’m out shopping for her but unsure whether she’ll like something, I send pictures, and she’ll respond with her opinion.
Ryan: As a student in a Master’s program – what computer programs or smartphone apps do you think are most valuable to you in maintaining your school schedule, school assignments and projects?
Misty: I’ve acquired my Associates degree and my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix exclusively online. Without fully functioning computers, I would not have been able to further my education at all. In May of 2014, I will complete my Master’s Program in Business Management with a specialization in Project Management. I use so many online resources such as Write Point, Writing Reviser, as well as software such as Microsoft Office 2010. All of that software allows me to make sure all of my work and correspondence is professional and concise.
Not only do I use technology to keep my personal and educational life organized, but I also dabble in graphic advertising contracting. I help out local small businesses and schools with advertising and marketing. I’ve used many different programs for graphic design in the past, such as Scala Digital, SiteCaster, and Navori. All of which allow for endless possibilities in both print and digital advertising and marketing. However, due to licensing and program costs, I typically resort back to the user friendly Microsoft Publisher and Microsoft PowerPoint from Microsoft office 2010.
The capabilities to create, alter and quickly submit work to clients is effortless. While the previously stated programs allow for endless possibilities, the key to staying on the cusp of successful advertising and marketing is to know your program, its capabilities, and the target audience. Your goals can be reached without paying high prices for software rights and updates.
Ryan: Any last words for moms out there that are trying to balance the sort of things you balance?
Misty: Technology has become what so many people around the world not only take for granted, but what we are dependent on in order to remain efficient, cutting edge and most importantly sane. With technology keeping track of so much, the time we save leaves more time to share with those who matter most. People can easily live without technology, however technology allows individuals – especially mothers – to not take a single minute for granted and to enjoy life to the fullest. Technology may eventually become obsolete, but the memories you can create with all the time you save by using technology is priceless!
Obviously, there are no two identical ways that women use technology today, but one thing that seems clear is that the demands on them continue to increase. Technology provides the tools and the resources to keep up with those demands and to manage lives that are getting ever more complex and chaotic.
How do you use technology to manage your family and your career? Are there certain apps that you feel are most useful for busy moms or career women? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments section below.