By Anne Collier
A family doesn’t really need HP’s $1,700 touchscreen computer for the kitchen (to keep coffee and cereal-milk spills off of keyboards), but the idea of a centrally located kitchen computer – harking back to the days of the family hearth – is a great one. Obviously it carries out that cardinal rule of kids’ online safety about having the Net-connected computer in a high-traffic spot, but it’s also a very natural way of making the Internet as much a part of family day-to-day life as it is of young people’s social lives. Then stuff that goes on online becomes a natural – and hopefully hardly ever confrontational – topic of family conversation (parental overreaction too easily sends kids “underground,” establishing “stealth accounts” and profiles in any number of places online that parents may’ve never heard of, sometimes putting kids at greater risk than when communication lines are open). But the Internet in family routines is definitely happening, the New York Times indicates, since broadband use (47% of US homes, according to the Pew/Internet Project) makes things like looking up phone numbers and movie listings more efficient on the Net than in phone books and newspapers. Even better news is that “74% of teenagers who use the Internet at home do so in a shared space,” the Times reports, citing Pew figures.