Hello?! Is anybody there?!

I watched my 2-year-old son the other day as he managed to activate Skype on my laptop and call the first contact available which was luckily my wife who was in the other room. One the one hand I was pleasantly impressed at his budding hacker skills on the other I wondered if he was already overexposed to the computer and (whispering) “technology.”

The debate seems never ending these days as more and more gadgets “flood the market” and create great new ways to “entertain” our kids. I like to think, though, that there is a middle ground between pushing a tire down the street with a stick and watching Thomas the Tank Engine in the latest 3-D goggles while drooling like a zombie. One such example of the middle ground for me is the aforementioned Skype.

With all of our relatives overseas Skype is a lifesaver and wallet saver all rolled into one. We can call the grandparents and aunts and uncles without worrying how long we will be on “the phone” since we already have an Internet connection and, as you all probably know, using Skype from computer to computer is free. I realize, though, that we take it for granted that this is the way it should be today and it certain lends itself to the ongoing technology-yes and technology-no arguments. Skype is without a doubt a great thing for my family. We can see and hear our relatives and family members on a daily basis almost as if they were here. I know it is not the same thing, but growing up we spoke with my grandmother in Italy once a week on Sunday and it was a brief hello to hear her voice and quickly give a recap of the week. You could almost hear the nickels and dimes falling as the minutes went by. It was a family ritual and one that we all looked forward to each week, but it was certainly limiting with its “sit-by-the-phone” setup.

A negative, albeit entertaining, aspect of Skype is that my son often runs to the computer and talks to it as though he believes that his grandparents live inside (when they are not physically in New York visiting) and are just waiting for him to start talking to them. He tends to get upset when the computer (and therefore Nonna or Nonno) does not answer.

I am not worried that Skype will turn my son’s brain to mush or that he will grow up with an unhealthy social interaction mechanism because he talks to his relatives via video chat, but that is exactly the dilemma that Skype represents in the larger scheme of things. It symbolizes all of the pros and cons of what we, as parents, tend to define as “technology”. I cannot bring myself to condemn or worship it either way. I do feel, though, that as clichés go, moderation is the key, as many of us already know and by striking a balance you can really make the experience gratifying, practical and fun for the kids. Once they have finished talking with your folks on the computer they still have plenty of time to go out and break the neighbor’s windows playing stick ball in the street or backyard.

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