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Family Communication: Then and Now

Skype, Facebook and mobile phones have changed the way we stay in touch


The things families talk about — and the reasons they stay in touch — probably haven't changed much over the decades. What has evolved dramatically, however, is the way that generations stay in touch.

See also: Should you "friend" your kids?

Technology has changed the landscape of family communication — much of it in very positive ways. I recently talked to a grandmother who told me about a birthday "visit" from her granddaughter, who is stationed in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. The two chatted via a webcam on a laptop computer. Just think how difficult it would have been 25 years ago for a soldier to wish anyone happy birthday. 

Here are some of the changes I've noticed. Read my observations, and then add your comments in the Tell Us What You Think box below to share your "then and now" stories.


Family Gatherings

Then: When families assembled for events such as weddings, family reunions, holidays or graduations, only nearby relatives — or long distance relatives who could afford to make the trip — could participate. Those who couldn't be there might have sent a congratulatory telegram, and then waited for a letter describing the gathering and, if they were lucky, a photograph.

Now: With smartphones and webcams, family members can join the gathering no matter where it takes place. Look around at a graduation ceremony and you'll see people holding up their mobile phones so long-distance relatives can hear or even see via video. Weddings and holiday gatherings include "virtual" guests who can see the beautiful bride, the steaming turkey or the Fourth of July fireworks through a webcam. Family reunions can even include overseas relatives.

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