by Harry on January 9, 2019

When I left home I didn’t have a phone for several years. I don’t mean I didn’t have a cell phone – I mean that nobody could contact me by phone. (This meant that each time I moved I had to find all the phone boxes within reasonable distance – all, because at any given time at least one or two were either not working or being used by someone to make an endless call). I also didn’t have a television most of the time. One year in college I lived in a shared house with a TV, and we did pay for a license, but it was dead cheap because the TV was a small black and white portable. I could listen to music because I had a small radio/cassette player and a few cassettes. (Some bugger walked into our house because a housemate left the door wide open all day and stole the radio/cassette player, along with Randy Newman’s Trouble in Paradise, my passport, and 30 quid’s worth of 5p pieces that I had for the electricity meter in my room but, mystifyingly, didn’t fancy any of my clothes). When I finally got a phone, it was fixed to an address, and I paid the monthly bill until I moved out.

When my daughter left home she took her phone with her, her monthly bill paid by us on the family plan. She could watch television on her computer with our Netflix and Willow TV subscriptions (regrettably she has still never used the latter). She could listen to music with our apple music account, and had access through itunes to whatever music and television shows we have purchased (including many of the Dr Who episodes I missed the first time during the long period of not having a telly). She’s now moved to another country, so she’s off our family phone plan but, conveniently, is on my dad’s instead (and, for complicated reasons she doesn’t cost him anything at the moment). Otherwise, she still has the Netflix, itunes, apple music access (though, as a new secondary school teacher, she works nearly every waking hour, so doesn’t have time to watch much – except the wonderful The Mighty Boosh, to which she has introduced us).

As things stand, her use of our Netflix, apple, and itunes (and Willow TV should she ever come to her senses) costs us nothing: and some of the itunes purchases are hers in the sense in which the cassettes I owned were mine, and, as far as I can tell, not transferable to separate account. I haven’t looked into it, but if she moves back to the US, I imagine it will make more sense financially for her to go back on our family plan and pay her share than to get her own individual plan. And the same for the second child when she leaves. And the third.

At what point do young people get their own Netflix, apple music, itunes accounts and phone plans? Just to be clear, the question isn’t about our subsidizing her: we can stop subsidizing her (well, we have: as you all know, beginning secondary school teachers earn a fortune) but it will still make sense for her to be entangled with us in this way that was unimaginable to me as a young person. And, also to be clear, this isn’t a complaint – I don’t think it’s bad, it just seems like a big change from the past.



robo_friend 01.09.19 at 3:20 pm

Honestly, it makes sense when someone has a new stable family unit (or partnership) or their own. There’s just too much cost benefit to getting things like Netflix, phone plans, etc. in package deal with multiple others. I left home shortly before the rise of family plans, streaming services, etc. so I’ve often gotten the subscriptions for myself but have instead shared family plans with good friends, partners, and so on. Many of my friends and colleagues are still on their family’s plan or using an ex’s Netflix subscription until they have a new partnership where they start a new shared subscription. The family is just the most stable unit for these shared economies of scale.


Phil 01.09.19 at 3:29 pm

I feel very old-fashioned. We’re paying for our student daughter’s phone usage but not our graduate son’s; we’re all on giffgaff, & (except for daughter) all on PAYG, so the sums are pretty trivial (both son & daughter communicate with their friends mainly through FB Messenger, over whatever wifi is handy). Son introduced us to Netflix; we’ve gone halves on his Netflix account. Again, trivial sums. Whatever else S & D get up to online (mainly Crunchyroll AFAIK) they pay for themselves. Minimal untangling needed.


Colin R 01.09.19 at 3:36 pm

My mother and mother-in-law both have profiles on my Netflix account, so I guess I’d come from the other direction–when will my elders figure out technology enough to operate it on their own!?

Really though, I don’t think this is really as big a change as it looks on first glance. Corporate distributors of content would prefer that every individual be a buyer, that no one share access, and that each individual be responsible for paying their own way, but from my perspective content has always been partly communal.

I don’t think that’s just a factor of age; I am just old enough that I didn’t have a landline and didn’t see a need to get a cell phone until I was nearly out of college; if someone had wanted to contact me until that point, they probably would have called my parents’ house and had my parents pass on the message whenever they next saw me. That was still a shared family phone service; the phone company just wasn’t trying to get a bite out of every discrete user.

This was true of other electronics and stuff too. When I was a kid, if a cousin had a computer game or a friend had a movie, eventually that wind its way to me, and vice versa. Video rental stores were a way of getting access to expensive movies and video games that you wouldn’t otherwise have enough money to see; streaming access has shut most of those down, but many libraries have stepped in to rent movies and even video games in their place. Sharing is pretty natural.


Chris Landee 01.09.19 at 4:34 pm

I have learned that if you haven’t heard from your child in a while, just change your Netflix password. Works like a charm.


Kai Jones 01.09.19 at 5:03 pm

I’d be happy to endorse enforcing “have your own account” if services would guarantee permanent access (not a temporary license) to the things I think I am purchasing. E.g., if I buy an ebook, I want the book permanently, with second sale rights and the ability to pass it to my heirs. As for streaming services, they’ve already chosen to open their market by ensuring you can access your account on multiple platforms at the same time. It would be easy enough to remove that feature so that only one person could be watching Netflix on their account at a time.


MPAVictoria 01.09.19 at 6:13 pm

In my family (parents, 3 adult siblings each with their own families) we share log ins. One family gets Netflix, one gets Prime and one get HBO and then we all share. Seems to work okay but I am sure the companies involved will eventually crack down on it and until then why not save the money?


Patrick 01.09.19 at 6:17 pm

I’m heading towards 40 and still sharing some of these things.

The marginal cost of having me share various data plans and memberships is just so low, and the benefits so solid, that it would’ve almost foolish to fully disentangle.

I sometimes feel vaguely guilty but at this point, given the way we’ve set things up, it isn’t always clear whether my life is still entangled with theirs, or their life is entangled with mine.

I wouldn’t worry about it. Once upon a time you would all still be living together in the same hovel for generations.


Trader Joe 01.09.19 at 7:24 pm

We’ve had this conversation regularly among my circle of friends who have older children ranging from still in high school to +30. Naturally there is some variation in opinion, but the consensus seems to be:

1) for cell phone plans as long as possible and as long as everyone is satisfied the bill is being split fairly – if someone starts hogging all the data and not paying or starts to complain over something that’s the moment to kick them off on their own – otherwise, as noted above the deal actually works best in teams of about 4 so its optimal for all to be there

2) for stuff like netflicks, itunes and prime the driving view seems to be one of privacy. Normally someone ‘owns’ the account and gets notices of what people are buying and can see account activity etc. and are also exposed to the related usage driven advertising…about the time the youths (usually) decide they don’t want Dad (or whomever) to see what sorta crap they are buying is the moment they usually ask to split*. The cost isn’t that great and most that are reasonably sound financially can readily afford. Its usually more a matter of someone wanting to leave than that parents ‘kick them off’

The whole topic is in the rare genre of technology bringing families together rather than the more common technology driving families apart.

* One of my friends tells a hilarious story about one of their remote living children buying a significant quantity of condoms via amazon prime and the father getting the ‘your order has been shipped’ notice.


brigoleuse 01.10.19 at 12:12 am

I am using my 23 yo son’s Netflix and Prime accounts. It does come out in the wash since I pay for the family Spotify.


e. a. f. 01.10.19 at 3:49 am

never did think of sharing these things, however, we didn’t have them while young. The continued use of “share” plans is some what akin to never letting to of the past. You stay connected. Its the new method of writing letters to ones we are separated from. It says something about our need to continue to connect and share. At one time societies shared a lot of things, like tools, food, etc. Those days are gone but perhaps young people feel a need to continue to share and be shared with.


John Quiggin 01.10.19 at 9:55 am

It’s striking how well we managed without phones, not to mention Internet. I can’t really remember, for example, how we used to plan and organize lengthy trips. I do remember in those days, the government of each Australian state had a travel agency in all the other state capitals, and you would go there to book your travel and accommodation. But the details of the process are lost to memory. Undoubtedly it all took a lot more time than it does now, and left more to chance.


Matt 01.10.19 at 11:03 am

Out of curiosity, how many of the practices above violate the relevant terms of service? I don’t especially care myself – it’s between you and your service provider, and for the most part, I don’t have, or at least share, the relevant service providers – but I am curious which sorts of sharing, discussed above, are violations of the terms of service, and which sorts are contemplated and allowed.

(An old-fashioned example: when I moved to Albany, NY from Idaho, to go to grad school for the first time, in the later 90’s, my car stayed registered as if it belonged to my parents and was in Idaho, and I was on their insurance. This was much cheaper, both for insurance and car registration. But, it’s fairly likely that if I would have gotten in a car accident in Albany, and was at fault, my insurance would have, rightly, refused to pay, on the grounds that we were, by the terms of our agreement, engaging in fraud.)


ccc 01.10.19 at 12:39 pm

Chances are these kinds of parent-child digital service subscription ring entanglements will go on until the older co-entangleds get so old that being in charge of the subscriptions becomes a hassle and then the roles simply reverse.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Netflix Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them (glued to the screen).


Harry 01.10.19 at 1:22 pm

I’m pretty sure that in our case, everything we do is within the terms of the contract (I haven’t checked about Willow, but I was being kind of flippant about that one — she has no interest in cricket at all, one way in which I have failed as a parent).

I guess staying on your parents health insurance till you are 26 is similar, except that in civilized countries that’s not conceivable.


Patrick 01.11.19 at 1:28 am

“Out of curiosity, how many of the practices above violate the relevant terms of service?”

Probably loads, but I’m also very certain that the cable, streaming, and phone companies not only know that this is common, they literally know who is doing it and how.

If your system has a “family plan” that exclusively connects to the system with two people in one location and two people in another location, separated by thirty miles, it isn’t really a mystery that they’re not a cohabitating family. Especially not when they’ve kept that setup for half a decade and two moves, and the accounts are literally tagged by the names of the people using them.

I wonder sometimes if they’ll ever crack down on it, but I think they’d rather have the customers and view it, for now, as a perk.

Comments on this entry are closed.