Although postmodern theorists disparage the idea that a universal theory can be developed to explain social life. a postmoderrust perspective might provide insights on questions such as this: How is family life different in the "information age"? Social scientist David Elkind (1995) describes the postmodern family as pe"/'mcable-capable of being diffused or invaded in such a manner that an entity's original purpose is modified or changed. According to Elkind (1995), if the nuclear family is a reflection of the age of modernity, the permeable family reflects the postmodern assumptions of difference. particularity, and irregularity. Difference is evident in the fact that the nuclear family is now only one of many family forms. Similarly. the idea of romantic love under modernity has given way to the idea of consensual love: Individuals agree to have sexual relations with others whom they have no intention of marrying or, if they marry. do not necessarily see the marriage as having permanence. Mater nal love has also been transformed into shared parenting. which includes not only mothers and fathers but also caregivers who may either be relatives or non relatives (Elkind. 1995). Urbanity is another characteristic of the postmodern family.The boundaries between the public sphere (the workplace) and the private sphere (the home) are becoming much more open and flexible. In fact. family life may be negatively affected by the decreasing distinction between what is work time and what is family time. As more people are becoming connected w 24/7" (twenty-four hours a day. seven days a week). the boss
who would not call at II :30 P.M. or when an employee is on vacation may send an e-mail asking for an immediate response to some question that has arisen while the person is away with family members (Leonard. 1999). According to some postmodern analysts. this is an example of the "power of the new communications technologies to integrate and control labour despite extensive dispersion and decentralization" (Haraway. 1994: 439). Social theorist Jean Baudrillard's idea that the simulation of reality may come to be viewed by some people as "reality" can be applied to family interactions . in the "Information Age." Does the ability to contact someone anywhere and any time of the day or night provide greater happiness and stability in families? Or is "reach out and touch someone" merely an ideology promulgated by the consumer society? [oumalists have written about the experience of watching a forgathering at an amusement park. restaurant. mall. or other location only to see family members pick up their cell phones to receive or make calls to individuals not present. rather than spending "face time" with those family members who are present. Even as postmodern perspectives call our attention to cyberspace. consumerism. and the hyperreal, it is important to recall that there is a growing "digital divide" and a "new kind of cyber lass warfare;' as some journalists refer to it. going on in the United States and around the world (Alter. 1999). New economic trends that are making the richest million Americans even richer are making the poorest fifth of Americans even poorer. Although in 2000 more than 50 percent of all U.S. households owned computers and 41 percent of all households had Internet access. many families were left out as the gap in Internet access between those at the highest and the lowest income levels increased. The Concept Quick Review summarizes sociological perspectives on the family. Taken together. these perspectives on the social institution of families reflect various ways in which familial relationships may be viewed in contemporary societies. Now we shift our focus to love. marriage, intimate relationships. and family issues in the United States.