Digital Grandparents Stay Connected

Digital Grandparents: “Move Grandma so she can see me at the State Fair…”

Photo of a cute little girl on a computer  screen interacting with her Grandparents. From a longer NYT article.
The Digital Grandparent. NYT, 11/26/2008 James Estrin

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Do you think we are going to have trouble getting connecting in- person after spending so much digital time? I am the digital grandparent as I watch the kids for an hour or two online while their parents work from home. The younger kids and I play board games or “clean house” together. Then I help the older ones with an (online) entry for our Marin County Fair. But, when we finally get to see each other in person, will it be different?  Eileen, Tiburon

Dear Eileen: It’s a fine question- how will we reconnect when we are able to get together again?  I checked in with a good friend, who like you, is watching grandkids online. She says they “sneaked in” an in-person visit for Mother’s Day, and it was a joyous reunion. There was no hesitation on the part of the eighteen month old to bond with Grandma and Grandpa. More recently, this story from the WSJ, says families are developing “re-entry plans.”

Far Apart?

You mentioned that you spend time almost every day online. That is the key factor.  Time is one of the enabling things we can give online, because we can re-purpose the period we would have spent on the road or in the car. For established relationships ….putting in time is a key factor, just showing up!

However, the dynamics might be different for interaction if the children/grandparents had not known each other in person before going online. A sociologist reports in the NYT that that nearly half of American grandparents live more than 200 miles from at least one of their grandchildren and two-thirds see one set of grandparents just once a year or less.

In the same article, noted author Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, worries that ever-more-real virtual encounters (think holograms) could make us forget what we are missing in the case of a grandchild: the smell of a grandmother’s cooking, the warmth of an embrace.

IRL vs Digital (State Fairs)

But, back to happy….It’s great that you are working on an actual project with a real deadline with your grandkids.  Here is one story you might want to talk this one over with the older kids, so that you both become aware of how ‘sharing virtually’ changes behaviors:

Most county fairs and live events have been cancelled this summer, as you mention. IRL, we enter tasty home-made pies, take rides that spin, and in the ‘4H’ animal ring, judge animals that are best-in-show. Kids that raise farm pets will miss transporting the beastie to the show, then the live showmanship, and, of course, the smells (!) . As the rules change, so does the digital entry: contestants might fluff up Muffie’s coat or add bulk, with Photoshop, that is.

There are lots of ways that our activities change when we go online, and we learn to look at things differently. If you are watching older kids online, it’s good to mull this over and get their perspective. Hopefully, we can use our technology to develop more intense personal relationships with the people we love. And,  when we do see them, it will be nice to reach out, smell, and touch.

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