The Wired Family: The Schwartzes
from left, Greg, Jeff, Lauren and Sandy - have everything from a Web cam to MP3 players.

All Hooked Up
By Erik Linden

The Schwartzes of Palo Alto use tech to
keep in touch, deepen their bonds.

Meet the Schwartzes of Palo Alto. And their gizmos.

Two Handspring Visors. A few MP3 players. A TiVo television recorder. Seven desktop computers. One laptop. A DVD player. Four cell phones. A WebCam. And a few digital cameras.

That doesn't include an intricate system of networking cables that Jeff Schwartz, a 47-year-old father and serial entrepreneur, helped to connect the computers in the two-story home.

Add to that the family's high-speed cable modem to access the Internet on its six computers. But the cable service is unreliable, they say, so they're getting DSL installed next week as well.

For the Schwartzes, the Internet and other gizmos borne from the 1990s tech boom have become an integral part of daily life. Parents Jeff and Sandy say technology helps keep their family close and creative.

Consider the various ways the couple uses technology inside and outside their home to maintain contact with their children - Greg, 17, and Lauren, 14.

Over the past year, exchanging instant messages over the home network - with programs such as AOL-Time Warner's ICQ - has become one of the family's favorite, and most useful, hobbies.

Sandy, 44, might send an instant message to Greg telling him it's time for dinner or to mow to lawn. "We don't yell up the stairs," says Sandy, eschewing the habit of many parents who use vocal cords to grab the attention of kids. "It's wonderful," she says of instant messaging.

Prepared to answer any critics skeptical of the family's use of technology, Jeff says e-mail and instant messaging are tools for fun or informative chat - not for deep issues. "I would never have an important conversation with one of my kids typing instead of talking," he says.

In fact, just last week Greg arrived home from a long day at school as the family was sitting in the living room watching a TV show. With the touch of a button, Jeff paused the show and TiVo began recording it before Greg had a chance to scoot off. "We wanted to talk to him, so we just recorded it," Jeff says. "TiVo puts me in control."

In 1988, the Schwartzes founded Techs International, an encyclopedia of tech hardware and software. They sold the company for an undisclosed amount of New York-based Ziff Davis Media Inc. in 1991.

Now, several projects later, the work-from-home couple is writing a book about their family's digital lifestyle, which earned them a write-up in The Wall Street Journal two months ago.

The newspaper's Work & Family columnist Sue Shellenbarger observed, "If you're wondering how technology will shape communication in families of the future, a visit with the Schwartzes sheds light."

For example, take Sandy's newfound taste for funk and hard rock music, derived from swapping MP3 music files with Lauren and Greg over the home network.

On a daily basis, either Greg or Lauren finds a music file they believe their mom might like. They can bring up mom's computer on their desktop, and drop the file into her WinAmp (a digital audio player) playlist.

"We're constantly sharing information," Sandy says of her kids. "It's fun, but it's also an example of technology bringing us closer together."

Lauren, a student at Palo Alto High School, along with her brother, says the ability to share music files is her favorite part of the home network. "When Green Day's new album came out, I loaded it onto (mom's) playlist," she says.

She also likes the convenience of instant messaging with her family, but insists it doesn't replace conversations. "I still have human contact," Lauren says. "I don't go for days without seeing my family."

Neither does Greg, who is known at school as a gadget whiz. He helps maintain the school's Web site and carries a number of devices, including a Visor, on his hip.

Maybe it's a Silicon Valley thing, but the family's increased reliance on gizmos doesn't bother Jeff or Sandy. Jeff says he's raised his children to be comfortable with and embrace new and fun technologies.

"It's become on of the dimensions of our relationship," he says. "I really think all this technology is not necessarily good or bad. It's what you make of it."

Silicon Valley Business Ink February 2, 2001