When I was a kid, if I wanted to contact my friend, Eddie Wolf, I would either call his phone number, blast our secret tribal scream over the fence or just go over and knock on his door. Nowadays, we have so many more ways to connect. You’d think there would never be a situation where I couldn’t reach my college-age kids. I call their cell phones, which usually results in my leaving an idiotic-sounding voice mail, especially if it times out. If my thumbs are in good shape, writing a short text is a possibility. But being a proper grammarian, I can’t subscribe to the post-literate short form of English that texting creates. So it’s tedious. Email offers a more robust all-finger exercise, so my pinkies need to be in top form. I can Facebook them, using private setting, poking or scribbling on their walls. There is always Instant Messaging and Twitter. I can tell if they’re online and available to chat. But I’m sure they wouldn’t…not with Dad. And if I dare, we can Skype our way to family togetherness. I haven’t done it yet but I’m leaning toward shooting a video-of-self, posting it on YouTube and sharing it. Hey, how about writing a letter? So much technology, so little time.
And what of the recent development of kids as young as toddler age playing with mom's smartphone or tablet? So many new apps with kid's interactive games have supplanted TV as the prime electronic baby sitter. I recently witnessed an episode where the iPad came out, the trance state descended and dad couldn't get on his kid's radar...not even with the tried & true "Ice Creeeaaam everybody!"
So it's no wonder that I feel more distance than ever. I figure it this way: While the technologies provide us with conduits of communication, we often misapply them as a substitute for actual connection…sort of a “tag, you’re it” thing. And since so much electronic communication is shamelessly public, a parent invading a child’s electronic space can be downright humiliating. It’s as embarrassing as Uncle Phil climbing under the blanket in your living room secret fort or your mother yanking you off the dance floor for dancing too close at your first tween party.
During a recent phone conversation with Robin Raskin, founder of “Living in Digital Times”, we defined a novel way for families to communicate meaningfully. Take an elegant device like Mobi’s MobiCam wireless monitoring system (I slid that shameless solicitation in pretty craftily, what?) With 2-way audio communication, the kids can talk to Grandma, who may be living in the guest house. From there, she can read favorite stories to the little tykes or even better, tell stories about when she was a little girl.
So, to answer my own question, technology is what you make of it. Although remote contact is no substitute for actually being in the same room, sometimes it’s the best we can do. Now where was I? Oh yes…scheduling a post to myself for morning wake-up. How does technology bring your family closer together...or does it? We'd like to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org