Despite claims that the digital world has increased individual feelings of isolation and contributed to society’s ills — from the breakdown of communications to deteriorating social skills — the ever-expanding array of personal devices and instant information exchange capability has brought about a new era of togetherness for family members and friends who are separated by geography.
Telecommunication capabilities offer “face time” in real time to families on different continents; exotic vacations and family celebrations can be celebrated remotely as well as by those actually taking part, and the availability of apps and sharing sites make togetherness almost too intrusive, according to some critics. But it’s a whole new world of opportunity for anyone willing to take the plunge into the pool of ways to stay connected.
Pros and Cons
As we have seen, there are drawbacks to the widespread use — and misuse — of the technology that can bring people together. The proliferation of smart phones alone is a phenomenon that few would have predicted only a decade ago. In 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, 87% of residents across developed nations own a smartphone and use the internet at least occasionally. In emerging nations, the figure is lower, but it still is substantial at 54%. When you consider that the smartphone was introduced in the 1990s, but did not enjoy much popularity until 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone, the spiraling growth is unprecedented.
By 2020, it is estimated that there will be 6.1 billion smartphones in use across the globe. Those phones are not just for keeping in touch, but they have revolutionized the business of staying close to family and friends. New apps for exchanging pictures and information are introduced almost daily; and mobile devices are used by more people for more things than desktop computers. There is virtually no limit to the reach of the technology. As devices become smaller, faster, cheaper and easier to use, there will be a corresponding jump in targeted applications that appeal to young people, working families and senior citizens.
If you’re still intimidated by devices, you’re not alone; but even those who don’t love the handheld and desktop tools have to admit that they can be fun. As the world shrinks, the chance to share a slice of life with loved ones who are far away becomes far more important.
Keeping up with family and friends is one of the primary motivating factors for the development of easy-to-use apps. Many of the apps are free to use, and even so-called “safety net” applications are widely affordable. It is now possible to monitor the condition of your property from a distance, keep tabs on another person’s health, and change your home’s temperature settings, call for help, place orders and authorize payments, all with the touch of a screen or the push of a button.
What About Being Friendly?
The growth of social media in all its varieties is also viewed as a mixed blessing. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and the others — too many to mention — all have their followers. Baby boomers tend to either embrace the sites wholeheartedly or dismiss them as too invasive and too much trouble. But videoconferencing, so widespread in business, is a popular way for families to see and hear one another on a regular basis. A weekly Skype session is the perfect way for grandparents to catch up on the changes in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives. They are easy for all users, and now the same technology is widely available on mobile devices, in addition to computers.
It’s not all about phones. There are many more ways to reach out and to be reached.
Google is definitely not just a search engine anymore. Through Google+, Google Docs and Google Games, there are numerous ways to keep in touch, share information, pictures and ideas, expand your social network, collaborate on projects, participate in “virtual hangouts,” explore new ideas and learn new skills, even play games. With its worldwide network, you can be as active as you wish, and you can choose your own privacy settings or limit your contacts any way you feel comfortable.
Facebook, is the “granddaddy” of social networks and making an account is an easy and convenient way to keep up with friends and family. The disadvantage is that it’s so public. Learning to ignore what you don’t want to view takes a bit of effort, but the huge social media network also allows you to send private messages to your “friends” to locate old friends or find new ones. It can also be a quick way to circulate important information to those who need it.
Other social networking sites have loyal followers, and one of the fastest-growing is Pinterest. Set up a private board to share vacation pictures, family histories, recipes and inspirational thoughts. It’s not only a pretty site, but it can be “addictive” in terms of time spent browsing other people’s posts. It’s also easy to open an account and easy to navigate the site. Plus, you know what they say: A picture is worth a thousand words!
There are also a wide variety of specialized sites worth exploring if you have specific interests, or just feel like taking a trip around the Internet. Run through various suggested options, and pick those that will work for you and your family.
Specialized Online Apps
Distance can be worrisome in certain circumstances, and there are modern solutions available to you that will allay fears of health problems and medical emergencies, or help you monitor physical conditions at a second home or at your residence while you’re traveling. Bloom is one of the most inclusive and innovative.
Some of these new devices and applications allow families to pool resources in a single place, much like cloud storage, that can be accessed on demand by multiple users.
The Egg and Bevy are apps that will store data for you in your own “personal cloud” for a reasonable price. It’s like having a filing cabinet full of memories and information at your fingertips at all times. Each is an actual device that requires a physical location, but access can be granted to others, no matter where they are around the globe.
Do you remember the early digital photo frames that could be loaded for a rotating display of photos? The current version is a stationary display frame that allows others to send an email image directly to the device. Images appear as if by magic, allowing recipients to witness a grandkid blowing out birthday candles or performing at a piano recital. The new style album will store up to 1,000 photos, allow scrolling, or freeze any frame you wish to display. Skylight Frame is available for about $100.
Today, living in a community you love does not mean that you can’t share life and good times with far flung friends and relatives. All it takes is a little technology.