and Us: Impact on Families and Consumers
Mikki Meadows, Ph.D., Linda Simpson, Ph.D., Pat McCallister, Ph.D.
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
Eastern Illinois University
is constant for consumers and families. It is not just change but fast
change, especially in the local and global environment and marketplace.
This fact is evident when current issues and challenges were not even
in existence a few years ago. Much of this change can be contributed to
technology and its impact on consumers and families. For example the Stone
Age lasted many centuries and the Metal Age lasted 5000 years. In recent
times the information age only lasted 20 years with a quick advance into
the current knowledge age. Even the speed of change into the changing
consumer marketplace is evident. It took 46 years for household electricity
to reach 25% penetration while the Internet reached the same penetration
in 7 years. This penetration is also supported by a Harris study, which
indicated that Americans considered the computer to be last century's
Six options within the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Eastern
Illinois University were examined to determine the most significant technological
impacts on these areas. The positive and negative impacts of technology
were discussed in the areas of consumer affairs, merchandising, hospitality,
dietetics, child development, and family services as well as current issues
facing families and consumers in the current global marketplace.
Technology is producing a negative impact in one area of consumer affairs
as it creates endless opportunities for identity theft and consumer fraud
to occur. Identity theft is a top consumer-fraud complaint and accounts
for more than 40% of complaints. After identity theft, other technology-related
consumer fraud complaints are problems with Internet auctions and improper
charges from Internet and computer services. The cashless society is a
technological advancement that provides both positive and negative opportunities
for consumers. While the world of plastic, i.e. credit cards, provides
convenience for consumers, it brings additional problems of sizeable consumer
The increased use of Internet shopping is creating significant changes
in the merchandising industry. Consumers are now global and are not limited
to a local retail market, which creates more competition for retailers
but also provides other avenues for retailers to reach their target markets.
In addition, the human interaction in the retail industry is eliminated
by the increased use of technology. High-tech fashion is becoming a trend,
as consumers require wearing apparel to carry their electronic gadgets
such as cell phones, pagers, pocket PCs, etc. In addition, technology
is providing enhancements to the apparel itself by use of high-tech fibers
and construction for increased comfort in clothing.
Areas in which technology is having a significant impact in the hospitality
industry are electronic bookings, e-tickets, and lobby kiosk touch screens.
Consumers are having a considerable influence on this industry as pricing
for the lodging industry and revenue management systems are being challenged.
The consumers are provided more options to make travel reservations online
providing opportunities to comparison shop. Airline industries are utilizing
the use of e-tickets more readily as a means for consumers. In this situation,
consumers do not receive their airline tickets until arrival at the airport.
The hotel lobby kiosk touch screen guest-tracking system is another innovative
technological development that is noteworthy in the hospitality industry.
While this approach provides a quicker, more efficient method at check-in,
once again, it eliminates personal interaction between a staff person
and the consumer.
Dietetics, as a field of study, has seen significant changes in regard
to the use of technology in the area of research. Specifically, the genetic
modification of food sources has gained attention and controversy. Plant
life can be genetically modified at a molecular level in order to make
it more nutrient-rich, less vulnerable to pests, and hardier. In addition,
the genetic manipulation of livestock in order to enhance reproduction,
prevent disease, and increase lean muscle mass has also drawn attention.
Nutrition education, especially for children, has also changed considerably
as technology has advanced. Videos, music clips, and computer software
are all available to catch the attention of the consumer and help them
learn about good nutrition. Finally, dietary analysis tools have become
more accessible to the public in the form of computer programs and Internet
web sites. What was left to a professional dietician in the past has now
become available to the masses with just a click of the mouse.
The study of child development has been impacted as technology makes brain
imagery available and gives those that work with the youngest population
a peak into the working of the young mind. The technology that was used
in the medical field in the past is now used to track the plasticity of
the brain. An understanding of plasticity has given rise to an awareness
of the importance of the meaningful interactions during the first years
of life that actually strengthen brain growth. The education of children
has also changed dramatically with the influence of technology. Computers
in the classroom are now commonplace, changing the way that educators
educate. Specifically, the use of technology with children who have special
needs has provided opportunities for growth and development that are significant.
There is no doubt that computers open up educational vistas unheard of
in the past; however, lack of teacher training for the use of computers
in the classroom has become problematic.
Individuals who work in the field of Family Services have seen a dramatic
shift in family communication as technology has evolved. As communication
technology has skyrocketed, today's busy families have become closer in
many ways through the use of various devices. E-mail, pagers, and cell
phones all allow the mobile family of the 21st century to reach one another
in an instant. Family security is also an issue when considering the impact
of technology on the family. In today's uncertain times safety devices
in the home, automobile, and even tracking chips that can be implanted
under a child's skin, are gaining attention.
In closing, technology has ushered in changes in the dynamics of the field
of consumer affairs, merchandising, hospitality, dietetics, child development,
and family services provides both positive and negative impacts to each
of these areas. While convenience and increased opportunities for families
and consumers are enhanced, the increase in consumer fraud and decrease
of human interaction is evident.