I receive an iPad 2 as an early Christmas present this year. A lovely little gadget, my husband thought it would be an ideal present for a frequent traveler like myself. I would no longer need to dedicate space in my carry-on for the bulky novels, library books, and trashy magazines that accompany (and amuse) me on long plane rides. But what my husband intended as a considerate, thoughtful gift slowly began to put a wedge between us. The iPad 2 became a catch all for my “to do” and shopping lists. It tagged along with us on our weekly trips to Target and Whole Foods. Then it cozied up on the couch with us for our weekly episode of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” It sat with me in the kitchen while I cooked and it even came to bed with us one night. (I fell asleep playing “Plants Vs. Zombies.”) My lack of attention to daily chatter and life in general was first a frustration, then an annoyance, then an issue of jealousy for my husband. We turned the iPad 2 off and we talked. The iPad doesn’t come out to play as much now.

This year, as I’ve listened to folks from all walks of life, I’ve picked up on a theme about technology and relationships. Many of my girlfriends feel they can’t connect with their husbands because their husbands are so busy connecting with their phones. I’ve also heard rumors of banning cell phones and texting from the family dinner table. Focus group participants talk about feeling too connected to technology but not connected enough emotionally. It seems people struggle to use technology to build or even make better those intimate moments of human connection. So when Microsoft’s “Keep Shopping” commercial popped up on a DVR’d episode of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” I paid attention. The commercial features a dad shopping for grocery’s using Microsoft OneNote (an organizational tool that comes with Office 2010) to buy groceries. He’s accessing the program on his phone, his kids are accessing it from their home PC. After he picks up the usual eggs, milk, etc. more curious items pop up on the list like coconuts, candy, and soda. Dad realizes his kids are masterminding the list. Laughter ensues and then this messages flashes on the screen,”It’s a great time to be a family.”

Here, Microsoft is using warm fuzzies and funnies to illustrate how technology can connect families and even enhance their relationship through increased communication. But is this a reality or a marketing ploy? Turns out, Microsoft conducted research to add some proof to the pudding. According to a survey conducted through Impulse Research, 64% of surveyed parents age 22-40 said technology brings their families closer. It’s even more important to younger parents (age 22-30) with 74% reporting the same.

Microsoft takes its lead from this report and is now committed to a whole “how to” campaign for connecting families through technology. To look at their bullet list of how to connect over the holidays and get advice on”…how to take advantage of all technology has to offer and help ensure screens don’t become a barrier to connecting,” click here. To tell me what you think about Microsoft’s overall campaign, the “Keep Shopping” commercial, or whether you think technology is a tool for distraction or relationship enhancement, head to the comments.

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