Home alone with all the family as screens lead to solitary lives
Millions of homeowners don’t live alone but are still leading an increasingly solitary existence. Sharon Dale reports.
IN the 1970s when households had no microwave and little choice of entertainment, families were forced to eat together then sit together and negotiate over which of the three TV channels to watch. Now, thanks to new technology, many of us are living “together apart” and leading an increasingly solitary existence.
According to a new study by Lloyds Bank Insurance, the majority of homeowners live with a partner or children but they are spending much more time alone. More than one in six people in Yorkshire said they spent most of their waking hours in the bedroom, with their smartphone, laptop and TV for company.
According to The Britain at Home Report, over half prefer to watch TV from the comfort of their bed, rather than in the living room.
The survey also found that more than 53 per cent of homeowners in the county have dinner at a different time to the rest of the family.
The way we use the rooms in our home has also radically changed as a result of our 21st century lifestyle. While the kitchen used to be a small, purely functional area and secondary to the sitting room, it is now ranked as the most valuable room in the house.
Over a third of those polled said they spent the most time in the kitchen and 54 per cent now entertain friends there instead of the living room.
Over the past year, homeowners have spent £1,235 on household and kitchen appliances, with 37 per cent investing in a coffee machine and 29 per cent following David Cameron’s lead and buying a bread maker. As the kitchen rises in popularity, the dining room appears to be falling out of favour. Two-thirds of homeowners have a dining room but 81 per cent say they usually eat in the living room.
Melanie Backe-Hansen, house historian and author of House Histories: The Secrets Behind Your Front Door, says: “Our homes have always reflected how we lead our lives.
“It’s now common for our homes to contain more screens than people, and for members of the family to spend more time on their own after a busy day. It is fascinating to see modern life taking its toll on how we use our homes.
“Although nowadays living spaces are less defined than the Victorian period, and far more multi-functional, it seems the tradition of families sitting down to eat together may be impacted by longer working hours, more hectic social lives and the growing influence of technology.”
Mumtaz Khan, senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, adds: “We are definitely becoming solitary within the home thanks to gadgets like phones, tablets and gaming. This is really testing relationships and creating a lack of intimacy. You have a situation where you talk to hundreds of people via social networks but you don’t talk to the person downstairs. I think people need to be aware and really look at how long they are spending online.”
The Lloyds report also showed that despite spending less time with their family, Britons are keen to splash out on their interiors. Homeowners in Yorkshire spent an average of £4,212 on new contents last year, including furniture, art, appliances and technology.
Almost 90 per cent of homeowners now have a flat screen TV, half have a tablet device and 37 per cent have a coffee machine. Most say the investment was to improve their wellbeing, though one in five said their motivation was to keep up with neighbours and friends.
Architect Ric Blenkharn, of Bramhall Blenkharn in Malton, suggests that more attention be paid to design and layout and how it affects human behaviour. He believes that bigger bedrooms for children and sociable spaces that tempt families to come together are crucial for better living. “Children’s bedrooms have traditionally been quite small but they work better with some element of living space in them so children can have a sleeping area along with room to study and relax.
“But one of the big issues we face is that technology has made us all more insular to the point where it is quite frightening. Getting people to come together to socialise can be difficult, though it is throwing up creative ideas.
“I have a client at the moment who wants two bedrooms for her children with a central playroom in the middle that they can access via sliding screens. This means they can open up the whole space and play together when they feel like it or they can close the screens and be on their own if they want to. That’s such a good idea and was inspired by Japan, where my client has spent some time working.”
Ric adds that, although considered a luxury, cinema rooms or snugs with projectors and pull down screens, are also useful for tempting people to get together to watch a film or TV.
Large, open plan living spaces that include a kitchen, sitting area and dining area also appear to encourage interaction.
“They are popular for good reason. They are the hub of the home, somewhere that people come together,” he says.
“Following on from that my own advice is quite traditional and that’s to try and sit down and have your evening meal together as a family. It gives you a chance to talk about your day and about issues that might be concerning you. It’s simple but very effective.”
PRIVATE LIVES: The bedroom is where many of us prefer to watch TV, bed from Ikea; From left, open plan living could be a solution to our solitary lives at home (kitchen from Ikea); gadgets and social networks are creating a lonely Britain (bluetooth receiver from red5.co.uk); eating together can also help build relationships away from social networks, table from Next.