This story about how grandparents are using video-conferencing to stay in touch with grandchildren is interesting. It makes the obvious point--that staying in touch via a computer screen isn't the same as face time, but that it's better than no time--but it wasn't until the end of the story that I started thinking about how this development is probably inevitable.
Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, worries that ever-more-real virtual encounters (holograms may be next) could make us forget what we are missing in the case of a grandchild: the smell of a grandmother’s cooking, the warmth of an embrace. In interviews, older grandchildren who video chat with grandparents say they visit them less, feeling that they have already “seen” them.I doubt we'll ever get to a point, technologically speaking, where we will actually forget what an embrace is like, but I think that the advances in communication and transportation that we saw in the 20th century really did change the reality of the multi-generational nuclear family in industrialized countries. We just don't see three generations or more of the same family living in the same general area. It's too easy to travel and communicate.
“It’s important that we not start to equate what the technology can deliver with what we can deliver to each other without the technology,” Ms. Turkle said.
I'm of the opinion that technology that enables video-conferencing will, in the short term at least, make it easier for generations to stay in contact with each other over great distances. I don't see us as a society going back to multiple generations living in the same communities, and if we're smart as a species, we'll be looking to expand outward from this planet in the next couple of generations at most, so the need to communicate outside of physical contact will be even more important. What's more important--smelling Grandpa's pipe or hearing his stories? To me, the one that gives me an insight into their world, and you don't have to be face-to-face to get that.