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Redefining home

/ 02:33 AM November 14, 2014

Look at your home and reflect on how it has changed in its functions. It used to be that the home was mainly a place for the family to eat together and, at the end of the day, sleep in. Some family socialization took place in the home but, before the advent of television, much of social interaction—within the family, with other relatives, friends and neighbors—took place outside. You still see it today even in our cities, where cramped living spaces force families to sit in the street and interact with neighbors.

Over the years there’s been a quiet revolution going on to redefine the home.

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TV and, later, cell phones and computers, have meant more social interactions going on within the home. Our connection to the outside world is in fact now done through the home, by switching on our electronic gadgets. Television tells us what’s going on in the world outside while cellphones and computers have created what social scientists call hybrid spaces, the virtual world of the Internet and social media becoming areas for chatting, dating, debating, and more.

To some extent, the computers have also amplified the home as learning spaces. From time immemorial parents and older people transmitted knowledge and skills to younger people within the home but I suspect there was much more learning going on outside the home, working out in the field for example.

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When formal schooling came about, students had homework to do, so the home grew in terms of space for learning. For better or for worse, television, computers and the Internet further expanded the learning spaces. On one hand we can marvel about the amount of information that is now accessible to people through technologies. On the other hand, we, young and old, do become more vulnerable to information overload, and to misinformation.

All said though, the home is becoming an important site for learning, even library work now done online, and at home. Even professors do that—I can access the libraries of UP, and the University of Amsterdam, at home, mainly to read through academic journals.

Home offices

Which takes me to another transformation of home space, into a work place or an office. There are, in fact, a growing number of “home offices,” with people doing freelance work and consultancies working out of the home. The outsourcing industries have led to an explosion of possibilities, with young Filipinos entering a global market, through Internet ads, to do all kinds of work from a home computer: medical transcriptions, illustrations for comic books and graphic novels, translations, editing, even teaching English to Japanese students.

The types of people doing this kind of work are mainly younger, but there are also people who have retired but found a second life for contractual jobs. There are also women, and a few men, who choose to work out of the home so they can be almost full-time parents. Some go a step further, homeschooling their children, which means nearly every nook and corner of the house becomes part of a learning environment. (I’m speaking from personal experience, since I homeschool one of my children.)

Another important transformation of home space has come about because of changes in demographics. As people live longer, it means we have more elderly people having to deal with medical conditions that come with aging. This means the home becomes a kind of hospital or clinic, with medical equipment and other provisions for the patient. I have been in homes with a family member living with Alzheimer’s, and the homes may have all kinds of reminders posted at strategic spots: turn off the faucet, shut down the gas stove, lock the door at night.

The move toward home care has been deliberate, with hospital administrators and physicians themselves advising families to bring home a patient, where they can thrive, even as they battle certain diseases. Cancer survivors of all ages pose their own challenges to make a home a place for healing and recovery.

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Culture and the home

I mentioned all these challenges last Wednesday in a forum with our College of Home Economics, because its graduates will have to respond to all these reconfigurations of homes. Interior design is changing as more home owners bring out specific needs around a home office, a home school, a home hospice.

Beyond interior design and architecture, there’s also culture coming in. Definitions of comfort and safety vary from one culture to another. Many Filipinos, for example, enjoy having many people in limited spaces, but that can be a problem if you’re trying to claim space at home for your work, or for tutoring a child. We still tend to be liberal with the spaces, allowing children, for example, to do their homework while watching TV, or even lying in bed with bags of junk food. All that is going to translate into very bad work habits later on, not to mention health problems.

I deliberately mentioned food because food preparation and eating are so central to Filipino culture. We define who we are, and what we do, through eating, and will have to figure our way now on what eating means in a home office, for example. Or, and this is again personal, I’ve found that even with a relative who has Alzheimer’s and no longer recognizes people, it is still sometimes helpful to have him or her eat with the rest of the family, in the dining room. Occasionally, I catch a gleam in my mother’s eye as she watches her favorite grandchild, or my father.

If they have to be fed in their bedroom, then it’s also good to sometimes sit with them, help in the feeding. Again, you will have heartwarming scenes here as Lola offers some of her food to you, or to a visitor, a sign that she is still socially responsive.

Because our homes are becoming so multipurpose, it means many new forms of social interaction. On the negative side, it can mean tensions from work spilling over into the home, and our relationships with family members. We have to be able to draw boundaries to reduce those tensions through simple ways, for example, not checking the cellphone or the computer as bedtime approaches. I’m even ambivalent about bringing the iPad to bed, except to read a light e-book.

On the positive side, our multipurpose homes can mean more exciting interactions. When I was working with an American nonprofit group we would have weekly meetings through Skype and it was always early in the morning here in Manila, to allow my American colleagues to connect late afternoon. The first few minutes would always be light and congenial as they’d catch my kids in the background. The older kids even learned to come up to the computer webcam to greet my American workmates.

More recently, I’ve had a Dutch visiting professor staying at my place and she loves being able to be in touch with her students in Amsterdam, advising them through Skype. She also gets to Skype her mother, and I’d join in the conversations. I’d known the mother from years back. Now in frail health, she finds joy keeping in touch with her daughter, and her daughter’s friends.

If I might end on a cultural note, I can imagine how Skype, in our reconfigured homes, can also become chaotic, with everyone wanting to say hello to your workmates, a kind of reverse selfie. I loved it when, once, my son actually shouted out to someone on Skype, “Kain tayo (let’s eat)!” and offered the sandwich he was munching on. The party on the other end was halfway around the world.

Homes are changing and now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to make homes as mobile as we are, truly making the home as the place where our heart is.

(E-mail: [email protected])

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TAGS: College of Home Economics, home, Home Office, Homework, Skype, social science, television, Work At Home
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