Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Management, Operations and Marketing


Relationships developed in families are crucial because these bonds play an integral part in how individuals learn to function and interact in society throughout their life. In the past, these family bonds were strengthened by spending leisure time together and participating in activities as a family. Currently, however, smart phone technology constitutes potential threats to family time and face-to-face interaction that are essential to bonding. Use of smart phones provides opportunities for individual entertainment, connecting on social media, checking in at work, and spending time together physically yet being emotionally separated on devices, which could disrupt quality time spent with family members. However, using smart phones also offers new ways for family members to communicate and share experiences which provides alternative means for bonding among family members.

This research sought to find out if smart phones positively or negatively affected bonding in the daily life of traditional families and to see if these behaviours affected bonding in a vacation environment. This study looked at this issue from a systems theory perspective, conceptualizing families as open, self-regulating social systems with the smart phone being a sociotechnical system within the family system to create a Sociotechnical Family System.

This research involved three objectives. The first objective was to discover perceptions of smart phone technology by family members. The second objective was to examine if and how traditional families negotiate and regulate smart phone use within the family system. The third objective was to understand whether the context of the vacation environment changed the way the family system functioned with technology.

Qualitative methods were used to attain the data for this research because thick descriptions and rich data were desired to understand the complexities of family systems. The first stage of the research involved one-on-one interviews with persons living in Australia and the United States of America. Their feelings and emotions connected to smart phone technology and usage were discussed in these interviews. The second and third stage of this research involved family group interviews comprised of families who contained a married couple with a mother and father at the core of the family. The second stage interviews included talking about how they used the smart phone within their family in daily life, what feelings they had about smart phones, and rules or guidelines established in reference to their technology use. The third stage topic was the same except the context of the family environment was changed from daily life to family vacation.

Individual interviews were audio recorded and family interviews were audio and video recorded so that nuances in gestures, speech, and family dynamics could also be noted. All interviews were transcribed verbatim and thematically coded by the researcher using Transana software. A research notebook was used to record any immediate feelings and thoughts at the conclusion of an interview. A philosophical hermeneutic approach was used so there was a constant resifting of the data as new themes emerged. This allowed the researcher to understand the actions of the individuals and families and the meaning behind their actions.

The research demonstrates that smart phones can positively and negatively affect bonding. Some families used their smart phones to send texts of endearment to show love and support throughout the day. Others would video chat and play games together on their smart phones. While these were positive influences on bonding, ultimately smart phones are a distraction and, therefore, do interfere with family bonding. With a conscious and concerted effort, however, these negative consequences from smart phone use can be mitigated. Some families were better at balancing smart phone usage so that it did not interfere with family. Those families shared the following traits: both parents were engaged in their children’s lives as a team, families were busy but not chaotic, the families shared positive memorable experiences together, they established some technology-free time together as a family, there was transparency and trust in their technology usage, and there were clearly established rules that were enforced but flexible.

The context of the family environment also played a factor in family bonding. Although smart phone technology was used often on family vacation, there was still a focus on spending quality time with family members and on creating memories.

Work and other responsibilities were frequently a part of vacation, but the main emphasis was still on family time. Often smart phones were checked during downtimes when family members felt bonding was not a primary focus.

FoR codes (2008)




Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.