The other day I had the pleasure of talking with author, quilter, and fellow mom Meg Cox, who’s updating her 2003 The Book of New Family Traditions, and – within seconds, as she was describing her plan for it – I was picturing all these potential tech-related traditions my work has turned up since 1997. Via emails, tweets, comments, and conversations, so many fellow parents whose stories have touched and enriched me through the years, for which I’m feeling very thankful these days of waning summer.
I also get to read and blog about other writers’ family-tech experiences. This week, author and dad Bruce Feiler nailed it in his essay in the New York Times, where he wrote what made my headline up there. I completely agree with him that, sure, we need to unplug every now and then – especially during family vacations if there’s the least little bit of a chance that we’ll miss something wonderful that’s happening (or not, in moments of stillness or communing in nature) in this very moment. Peaches are indeed “more powerful than Apples” and PCs and smartphones. But I also agree with Bruce as he goes beyond that to see that we don’t have to be rigid about that. What he didn’t say and I will is that rigid rulemaking where technology’s concerned is probably as bad as a family tech free-for-all.
Bruce gives some wonderful examples of where having technology on the family seaside vacation wasn’t just ok but great – especially when (brace yourselves, technoskeptics!) “my time came to occupy the ‘story rock’,” he wrote. “I stood in front of a circle of 13 people and pulled out my secret ingredient: my wife’s iPad. I wanted to tell a ghost story, so I sought ideas on Facebook and Twitter (@brucefeiler). It worked wonders. I reconnected with an old camp friend, picked up a tip that laundry lint can start campfires, and was pointed toward ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’ I quickly downloaded the 1820 story by Washington Irving, made some adaptations and glanced at my wife’s iPad as I performed the story. I was thrilled by how the Internet had facilitated this old-fashioned moment. The kids, predictably, were nonplussed. When I got to the end, they shouted in unison what their forebears must have: ‘Can we have the s’mores now?’”
So here are some of my own examples of tech-supported (or just -related) potential family policies, traditions, etc., just a teeny sampler:
- Scheduling some time, maybe every Sunday night or when parents hire a sitter, when grandparents and grandkids can play virtual Scrabble or checkers or newer games online via Facebook or Ohanarama.com (see this) – as a way to catch up on each other’s latest news (with game chat) every bit as much as to be entertained. [Similar catch-up can happen via Xbox Live and other gaming communities.]
- The mom who was able to communicate much more with her quiet son – and then keep in touch with him when he was away at college – by playing World of Warcraft together every Sunday afternoon.
- Parents meeting their children’s distant friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends in virtual worlds and video chat (Skype, Google+, Facebook videochat) first before being able to meet them in person. I have one dear friend who became good friends with her future son-in-law in Second Life, only later to be delighted with his and her daughter’s engagement.
- Playing Guitar Hero or a virtual sports game on the Wii or Xbox Kinect as a family on Sunday nights – to chase away the pre-Monday morning blues.
- Taking a digital notebook as well as books along on long family road trips – for a good balance of napping, books, reflection, movies, and games.
- Making it a tradition that, whenever they visit a city park or botanical garden for a family picnic, everybody identifies one tree or bird he or she hadn’t ID’d before – with the help of Twitter, Facebook, or an app Bruce mentions in his piece called Leafsnap, an “electronic field guide” to leaves, flowers, and fruits.
- Families geocaching (GPS-enabled outdoor “treasure”-hunting) either together or individually (e.g., a parent traveling overseas on business taking time out to geocache and bring back a “treasure” to cache with his or her kids in a local park (a friend and colleague of mine did this in Vilnius, Lithuania, when we were there for the Internet Governance Forum last fall (see also Geochaching.com). [According to Squidoo.com, more than 650,000 in more than 100 countries and all the continents.]
- Putting all friends’ cellphones in a basket at the front door (or parents’ bedroom) before a group sleepover so nobody uploads inappropriate video to Youtube or texts inappropriate photos to someone in a middle-of-the-night Truth or Dare game, and making sure cellphones are off and being charged at night far away from kids’ pillows.
So what favorite digital traditions have you established in your family? I’d love to see your examples and stories in emails or comments below – or follow me on Twitter (@annecollier), and tweet them to me!