The Virtual Home

The family is the mainspring of support of every kind. It mobilizes psychological resources and alleviates emotional burdens. It allows for the sharing of tasks, provides material goods together with cognitive training. It is the prime socialization agent and encourages the absorption of information, most of it useful and adaptive.


This division of labour between parents and children is vital both to development and to proper adaptation. The child must feel, in a functional family, that he can share his experiences without being defensive and that the feedback that he is likely to receive will be open and unbiased. The only "bias" acceptable (because it is consistent with constant outside feedback) is the set of beliefs, values and goals that is internalized via imitation and unconscious identification. So, the family is the first and the most important source of identity and of emotional support. It is a greenhouse wherein a child feels loved, accepted and secure - the prerequisites for the development of personal resources. On the material level, the family should provide the basic necessities (and, preferably, beyond), physical care and protection and refuge and shelter during crises.


Elsewhere, we have discussed the role of the mother (The Primary Object). The father's part is mostly neglected, even in professional literature. However, recent research demonstrates his importance to the orderly and healthy development of the child.


He participates in the day to day care, is an intellectual catalyst, who encourages the child to develop his interests and to satisfy his curiosity through the manipulation of various instruments and games. He is a source of authority and discipline, a boundary setter, enforcing and encouraging positive behaviours and eliminating negative ones. He also provides emotional support and economic security, thus stabilizing the family unit. Finally, he is the prime source of masculine orientation and identification to the male child - and gives warmth and love as a male to his daughter, without exceeding the socially permissible limits.


These traditional roles of the family are being eroded from both the inside and the outside. The proper functioning of the classical family was determined, to a large extent, by the geographical proximity of its members. They all huddled together in the "family unit" ? an identifiable volume of physical space, distinct and different to other units. The daily friction and interaction between the members of the family moulded them, influenced their patterns of behaviour and their reactive patterns and determined how successful their adaptation to life would be.


With the introduction of modern, fast transportation and telecommunications, it was no longer possible to confine the members of the family to the household, to the village, or even to the neighbourhood. The industrial revolution splintered the classical family and scattered its members. Still, the result was not the disappearance of the family but the formation of the nuclear families: leaner and meaner units of production. The extended family (three or four generations) spread its wings over a much bigger volume of physical space ? but in principle, remained almost intact. Grandma and grandpa would live in one city with a few of the younger or less successful aunts and uncles. Their other daughters or sons would be married and moved to live either in another part of the same city, or in another geographical location (even in another continent). But the physical contact was maintained by more or less frequent visits, reunions and meetings on opportune or critical occasions.


However, a series of developments in the second half of our century threatens to disconnect the family from its physical dimension. We are in the process of experimenting with the family of the future: the virtual family. This is a family devoid of any spatial (geographical) or temporal identity. Its members do not necessarily share the same genetic heritage (the same blood lineage). It is bound mainly by communication, rather than by interests. Its domicile is cyberspace, its residence in the realm of the symbolic.


It all started with the "Home Away from Home" business concept. Multinational brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds fostered familiarity where previously there was none. Needless to say that the etymological closeness between "family" and "familiar" is no accident. The estrangement felt by foreigners in a foreign place was, thus, alleviated, as the world was fast becoming mono-cultural. The "Family of Man" and the "Global Village" are here to replace the nuclear family and