Family connectedness in the digital world

Tak Sato and his parents (and the family dog, Vincent) use Skype to close the distance between Northeast Ohio and Yokohama, Japan. Mr. and Mrs. Sato have a desktop computer on their end of the line, while Vincent gazes into an iPad.

Ever since I started calling Cleveland my second home, I wholeheartedly adopted the Thanksgiving tradition. It is nice to have a reason to get together with family and friends because nothing can replace the feeling of “happiness” that comes from physically being in the same location to spend quality time together.

However, you may have obstacles that prevent you from physically being together in one place. When distance, finances or other “life obstacles” get in the way of your reunion, the options used to be very limited – i.e. a phone call. In my case, $2 a minute, circa late-1980s, was cost prohibitive for me, a starving student, to call home to Japan. I remember eating Chef Boyardee for weeks on end because I had to write a letter home asking for money.

When the reply finally arrived two weeks later it usually went like this: “Dear Tak, With the college tuition we are footing we hope you will one day be able to buy stock in that company. Tuition money will be wired soon so study hard and keep enjoying Chef Boyardee.”

Well, enough of this flashback! It’s 2013 afterall and this is a column that talks about how the internet has changed our lives. When life obstacles prevent you from being together we can thank the numerous cloud based services, for providing us “video chat.”

These video chat services, usually free, provide us with real-time audio and video communication between people using computers. Actually video chat is “device agnostic” meaning it can be used to communicate between computers, tablets, smartphones and even televisions!

I use video chat almost everyday. Even though nothing can top my happiness meter when I’m physically home in Japan, video chat services like Skype and ooVoo (there are more) provide me with the perception of being there next to them. Seeing them helps me discern much more from their body languages than just using the telephone. Why? I think parents in any culture are the same – they do not want their children to worry about them – and without the visuals it becomes challenging for me to sense if anything is wrong.

There are many other ways video chat is utilized such as telemedicine, job interviews, meetings to cut down on travel expenses, etc. Video chat can become an option as a communication vehicle for anything that traditionally requires people to be in the same physical location.

So instead of shrugging your shoulders that Uncle Bob, who owns a computer and a tablet, is home alone two continents over (or even just couple cities away) because of a bad flu, why not prop up your tablet at the Thanksgiving table and invite him to join the family gathering through video chat? After all this is Thanksgiving and if possible no one should be home alone – in the real world or the digital world! Happy Thanksgiving!

Next issue's topic: "Playing Santa's elf in the digital world"

Tak Sato

Business and technology strategist/consultant with 20+ years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and MBA from Cleveland State University.

As founder of geek with a heart, "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps Individuals, Seniors, Families, Small Businesses, and Non-Profits utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 5, Issue 24, Posted 9:55 AM, 11.26.2013