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Family tech battles can have lots of byte

As our digital tools and toys multiply, sharing them — willingly or not — is also becoming a bigger family issue to manage, more complicated than when only the computer was the nexus of household tech.
Bad things can happen when good families share or borrow each other's tech, whether it's the household computer or iPods or digital camera memory cards.
Bad things can happen when good families share or borrow each other's tech, whether it's the household computer or iPods or digital camera memory cards.Duane Hoffmann /

Parents who mess up their kids' iPod music library. Children who hog up the DVR with hours of their own programming. Spouses who borrow each other's camera memory card and battery without letting their partners know.

And those are just some of the family tech turf wars from the same household in Orlando, Fla. Dad Dwight Bain, a family law mediator, is in the perfect position to know how to cope with such battles. Even so, it can be exasperating — "we have negotiated many a power struggle over tech issues," he says.

As our digital tools and toys multiply, sharing them — willingly or not — is also becoming a bigger family issue to manage, more complicated than when only the computer was the nexus of household tech.

In the case of the Bain family, which includes mom, an 18-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, the computer was a linchpin to other household tech aggravation.

Bain bought his daughter's iPod from her so she could get a new one. He happily downloaded his music files from the computer onto the player — and in the process wiped out his daughter's music, 1,000 or so songs, which she did not have backed up.

"That was not a pleasant day," he recalls.

"I'm tech-savvy. Well, you think you are until you reach the level of your incompetence ... It took many hours (for her) to repair the lost data," which was all from CDs, he says.

"We got smart eventually, and saved the music somewhere else so we didn't have to lose it more than that one time." And his daughter also got her own computer.

The 'Golden Rule'
There have also been turf wars between Bain and his kids over the digital video recorder, which holds hours and hours of TV programs.

"We're always watching the memory on that," Bain says. "I've had to be the evil villain in the house because, it's like, 'I'm not going to lose my programs, so I'm going to delete yours. We don't need 27 saved episodes of 'Scrubs' that are going to be repeated on TV tomorrow — and I'm going to lose out on my movie?' "

Bain calls it the "Golden Rule: Remember, I'm the parent, I have the gold, I make the rules. This is not a democracy; it's a dictatorship with technology."

As stern as that sounds, Bain says the family also makes it a point to talk openly and often about tech traumas so that, like any important issue, it's dealt with, discussed and resolved to try to avoid future back-byting.

Even Bain and his wife have had to have a meeting of the minds. Sometimes she would use his his digital camera's memory card and battery (they both have the same kind of cameras) without letting him know, when her card was full or the battery not charged, he says,

He admits he was "probably being retaliatory" when he "was in the same desperate situation" and used her card and battery. "We both agreed there's a simple solution to this: We will text one another when we take one another's technology." A perfect solution: Using technology to solve technology woes.

They still share one battery charger, which also can be an issue. "What happens is sometimes it's more convenient to take the other guy's technology than spend 20 bucks at Best Buy and go and get another charger," he says.

Dad takes mom's iPhone
Sophie and Matthew Morris have three computers in their Houston home and three children, ages 3, 5 and 7.

"We are a family that runs on technology, but we never seem to have enough of it around," says Sophie Morris. Dad and mom each have their own computers — he's a programmer, and she runs an online business from home —  and there is "one upstairs for the kids," Sophie Morris says.

"They fight over it non-stop and also complain it is too slow, so we have had to give in and let the eldest two use my husband's computer when he is not around, which eases the tension a little." 

But it was mom's iPhone being "borrowed" by dad that caused some tension for awhile.

Playing with the apps
"My husband was stealing it to use the apps (programs) when I wasn't looking," she says. "He also developed a bad habit of bringing it to the dinner table, and then all the kids would clamor to have a try.

"The final straw was when he installed a light saber app and one day I found myself trying to eat my dinner while the whole family bounced around wielding imaginary 'Star Wars' weapons and making whooshing noises.

"Finally my husband bought an iPhone, too," she says. "He thought it was fun to download an app which allows you to shoot an imaginary gun. Shoot, shoot and reload.

"I definitely preferred the light saber. I haven't managed to convince him to uninstall it, but that app is now banned when the kids are around."

Fighting over the smartphone
Law professor Jonathan Ezor has a Palm Pre smartphone, and it's pretty much off-limits to his three kids, ages 14, 11 and 7.

"Pretty much" because the Ezor family is planning a trip to an area of New Hampshire where they will not have Internet access, something the Pre can provide if cell phone service is available.

"I expect fights over the Pre," says Ezor. "There supposedly is an Internet cafe in the town we're visiting, and I'm sure we'll be stopping by there frequently."

The family has had "a number of tense situations over the years" because of technology, "most notably when we traveled to Israel last summer with one computer for the five of us," that computer being his work laptop.

"It took some strict scheduling — and yes, I claimed priority — and finding handy computer labs to make it work as well as it did," he says.

Ezor considers his family a "very high-tech" one, with each member having their own computer.

"I'm proud we have only two TVs, but five computers; to me that's a much better ratio than the reverse," he says.

But computers are just a part of the equation. Like many households, there are game consoles, back-seat portable media players and DVRs to negotiate.

The family has two DVRs, with "large hard drives for both so we can record, and keep, hundreds of hours of programs for both adults and kids," Ezor says.

"For our road trips, I've got multiple chargers, multiple headphones and multiple video players."

An important rule in his household: "Fair does not mean equal. Our 7-year-old may want a new (Nintendo) DSi like her brothers got, but she doesn't 'need' one. She has her own DS, which works just fine with the games that are appropriate for her."

Also key: Sharing "whenever possible," Ezor says, citing examples of multiplayer games — he and his wife made sure that there are "at least three Wii controllers" — having the children take turns with new software, as well letting their siblings "watch them play games."

It's not only the gear
Not all family tussles are over tech equipment. Some are about online life, where family members — including parents, to the embarassment of some of their children — are finding and friending their kids on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Elaine Soloway, a Chicago author who blogs, said one of her daughters urged her to start using Twitter, the microblogging site. "Just give it a try," she said her daughter told her.

"Now I wonder if my youngest regrets her noodge, for after a day of not seeing any of her Tweets, I posted, 'Where's Jill?' Within the hour, she returned with this snarky response, 'Worst idea in the world, encouraging your Jewish mother to join Twitter.' "

"Therein lies a bit of danger in my trespassing," Soloway wrote. "Jill and I nearly got into a cyber squabble after I publicly shot back: 'This from the child I spent 10 hours of labor with.' "

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