Digital Family Dynamics

How Social Computing Can Bring Your Client’s Family Together Adding a computer in the kitchen area and an AV-style computer to the family room TV can actually st
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How Social Computing Can Bring Your Client’s Family Together

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Adding a computer in the kitchen area and an AV-style computer to the family room TV can actually stimulate the social dynamics of the home.

By now we are all familiar with the explosive popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, Linked In, and Twitter. All of these sites share the common benefit of bringing people and experiences closer together. Lately, I have been observing that we, as professional electronic systems integrators, can now provide solutions that foster the same level of socially connected experiences within the home.

While adding a computer to every bedroom can often transform shared family time into pods of isolation in a home, adding a computer in the kitchen area and an AV-style computer to the family room TV can actually stimulate the social dynamics of the home. Specifically, placing these computing devices in the kitchen and the family room can enable the following social behaviors to occur:

■ In the kitchen the large size of a computer touchscreen (23 to 25 inches) and the proximity of people standing or sitting near the screen make it a perfect location for sharing video moments from a site like YouTube or photo experiences from a service like Flickr.

■ Adding Skype (or a similar videoconferencing software) enables full two-way video conferencing with friends and relatives. In my own, for instance, in the family room or next to our touchscreen computer, we can call our children (one is in Boston, the other is in Sacramento) and they can still join us live for dinner when we Skype video conference them into our conversation.

■ Working on dinner and looking for recipes on the kitchen computer is a common group activity in the kitchen area

■ In the family room, the computer provides the large screen interface and surround sound capabilities needed for a variety of captivating computer-based multiperson games.

■ Our HP Touchscreen in the kitchen is used as one of the audio sources for our Russound wholehouse music system. Bring up music in Microsoft Media Center, and you have a multi-touch interface for bringing up all the album art in your collection that anyone can easily scroll through to choose the next song. Or call up the Sonos Desktop Controller and bring all your Pandora or Rhapsody songs to life throughout the home.

■ The HP Touchscreen also has a built-in ATSC tuner, which enables live TV to be viewed or recorded. If ATSC doesn’t offer a large channel selection in your area, then consider the new USBattached ATI CableCard tuners that now will work will almost any Windows7 computer for viewing and recording HDTV content.

■ If live or recorded TV content isn’t what you want to watch, then these computing platforms are the perfect gateway for downloading a Netflix movie or watching the latest Seinfeld episode from sites like Boxee, Hulu, or Clicker.

■ Over the course of the years we have digitized all of our family videos from the ’90s, many of them showing Christmas gatherings over the years. Could there be a better way to embarrass your son or daughter than showing these videos over dinner to their current friends?

■ Adding control software to the kitchen touchscreen computing platform makes this site an ideal location to view and control cameras around the home or adjust thermostats, lighting, or any other touchscreen-based control interface.

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Gordon van Zuiden ( is president of cyberManor, in Los Gatos, California.

■ We can now easily monitor our home’s electrical consumption by viewing real-time kilowatt usage in the window of the Internet browser software (we use the Energy Detective solution, which I wrote about in the August 2009 issue of Residential Systems).

The point is clear. Bringing an engaging computing platform into an area of the home where people congregate (like the kitchen or family room) can significantly enhance the social interactivity of family and friends inside the home.

As custom electronic integrators we can make that magic happen by properly setting up the network that allows for connectivity to digital entertainment streams, photos, video conferencing, cameras, and other AV sources. It is our ability to specify and install the correct wiring infrastructure, networking products, and data directory structures that allows these experiences to come to life reliably and easily.

Don’t just sell your client a TV in the kitchen or the family room, sell them an interactive computing experience in each of these areas that engage them to enjoy their personal AV content and the content they can easily subscribe to and control from the Internet.