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Has technology been the saviour of the modern working parent or a drain on time? An event in London yesterday explored the evolving role of technology in our lives.
Organised by websites wanna and KiddyUP, the Work-Family Balance through Technology panel included Comic Relief chief writer Mark Woods, author of Planet Parent: The World’s Best Ways to Bring Up Your Children, Gaby Moris, managing director of East London childcare organisation Riverside Cares, and Guardian journalist Janet Murray. It was hosted by Zoe Bermant, CEO of KiddyUP, which provides information for parents about everything from play activities to where they can breastfeed, and Jonathan Arad, co-founder of wanna, which matches people up with service providers such as babysitters or cleaners as well as sellers and buyers of goods.
Murray said how technology had enabled her to work mainly from home so she could spend time with her daughter. She wrote blogs as a marketing tool for her freelance work and could schedule them to go up as and when she wanted. Doing the school run and going to school events meant that sometimes she had to get up at 4am to finish an article, but she felt the trade-off was worth it. “I don’t feel I have to dance to someone else’s tune,” she said. Both she and Woods used technology to communicate with their children when they had to travel abroad for work. Woods said he felt anxiety about technology would dissipate with time as people became more accustomed to it.
He added that he would like to see technology coming up with a solution to childcare crises. “There is more and more of a need for ad hoc childcare,” he said, “but it needs to be trusted childcare.”
Moris said she was confident that a solution would soon be found whereby parents could very quickly access trusted childcare. “I think we are very near finding a solution,” she said, adding that she believed technology would push people to raise their game. Bermant said systems like parent ratings for local community services could increase trust.
She thought new technology, particularly apps, could help make parents’ lives less busy, for instance, they could check before they left home how many people were attending a health visitor clinic or whether Bounty packs were in stock at their local supermarket.
The problem was that there were a lot of apps around and new technology was emerging all the time. That meant parents were having to look in lots of different places for information, she said. Bermant felt there was a need to pool information and direct it at the right audience. She said the big brands were often still sticking to mass messaging when they might have more effect if they targeted key audiences.
One woman in the audience expressed concerns that the move towards apps assumed everyone had an iphone, although many families did not or had no credit on their phones. She said everything for parents was transferring to apps and traditional services were being run down. She warned against the dangers of a digital divide.
The session was the first in a series on technology and parenting.