Last week, my older daughter attended her first Sweet Sixteen while my younger one prepared to audition for the school play. Our house was abuzz with giggles and shrieks of excitement and supportive encouragement as my older daughter tried on dresses for her friends and plotted about gifts and gossiped, while my younger one sang strands of Taylor Swift and Adele, with input from her buddies on pitch and cadence and which role would be her best shot. Yet even as I inhaled the kind of frenetic, giddy, pure girl (for want of a better word – but if you’re a girl, you will get it!) atmosphere that I’d hoped for when my daughters were born, I also marveled. Because it was taking place entirely online.
Like any one else over 40, I too bemoan the superficiality of the Facebook generation, believing that hundreds of “frends” and scintillating conversation like “Wassup? Idk?” could never replace the intimacy of secrets shared or mischief plotted with a bosom friend and kindred spirit (you know what I mean if you’re an Ann of Green Gable fan!). But in doing so, I’ve also failed to recognize that the same technology that narrows our kids’ world to the dimensions of a computer screen also expands it; opening doors to those bosom buddies they may never have otherwise met and helping sustain contact with those they have.
That Sweet Sixteen that my daughter attended was up in New York – for a friend who she’d met at a summer program and video chats with nearly every day. They talked and exchanged pictures over winter break while we vacationed in California and her friend in Africa, they’ve chatted about who knows what, and even experienced the East Coast earthquake together, since they were Skyping while it took place.
By contrast, my younger daughter’s friends are in the area, but not all within walking or biking distance. Pre-video chat, practicing for try outs together would have lengthy coordination between three families. already juggling activities and chores and work on jam-packed weekends. But with video-chat and Skype, my daughter and her friends can pick up and interact in the same ad hoc way that kids of generations past would drop by the neighbors to see if a buddy could come out to play, or join a pick up game of kick ball or tag on the street.
Someday, my daughters and their friends will enter the work force and these habits, will change it. Perhaps they’ll work at a location of their choosing with Skype (or whatever video app is in vogue at the time) and chat with co-workers across the country and globe. Perhaps they’ll meet with their lawyers that way as well.
My daughters are hardly recluses – much as they enjoy video-chat, my older daughter would not have missed seeing her buddies from the summer in person, while my younger daughter relishes her lunch hour at school where she shares a table with ten other friends. Skype and video-chat aren’t necessarily a substitute for a relationship, but an enhancer; filling in the blanks when we — as friends or parents or lawyers — can’t always be around face to face. And sometimes, if you are as fortunate as I’ve been, the connections that you make on line can transform into productive work relationships and lasting friendships that would never have otherwise happened.