Monday, August 31, 2009

From Candelaria Silva: Technology Connects the Family

Candelaria Silva gave me permission to repost her essay on how the internet has helped her to stay in touch with her grandchildren and enriched her life in innumerable ways.

If you are reading this you are probably internet savvy, but you might have friends or relatives who might benefit from her post. You can learn more about Candelaria at her website at

I have been emailed and IMed. I’ve been “friended” on FaceBook, My Space, Plaxo and Shelfari (my virtual bookcase). I have been Linked In. Couldn’t live without Skype or My Family and Ancestry accounts. I’ve been tested through texting and texted myself – although I still resist twittering. All of this technology has connected my far-flung family especially across the generations. Or rather I should say it has connected those family members who use the computer and its communication, social networking, resource sharing and data/info gathering capabilities

My daughter’s internet search skills uncovered a half-sister I didn’t know I had and found my biological father whom I hadn’t heard from (or even thought was alive) for 40 years. She is the keeper of the family tree on and has gathered photos from relatives via postal-mail that do not have email or computers that she uploads onto the My Family and Ancestry accounts. She has traced the family on her father’s side back into slavery times with the aid of on-line resources. Her activities have gotten some of our computer-phobic relatives to get on board.

On Facebook I have been pleasant surprised by the number of connection requests I've received from many of my children’s childhood friends who remember the special meals, overnights and adventures we shared and reach out to connect to “Miss Silva” as they call me (no matter how many times I told them to say, “Msssss. Silva” because I haven’t “missed” anything).

The webcam and the application Skype have allowed me to reach across the miles and read books to my granddaughter, sing songs with her, watch her as she twirls around and takes a bow, or just plays in the background as my daughter and I have a virtual visit. My granddaughter knows me and is not shy when we see each other face-2-face. I AM HER NOT-SO-DISTANT GRANDMOTHER AFTER ALL! Skype also allows me to look into my drama-prone daughter’s face and see how she is really doing beyond what her words say.

Getting the rest of the family to Skype has not proven easy and I’m talking about the ones who already have computers. You would think I was asking them to fly to the moon. Except for two cousins, who also happen to be sisters, none of the family has gotten on board. We do, however, have an Uncle who forwards every joke and rumor on the internet. He doesn’t write messages or notes himself, rather he passes along jokes. Expecting this I can open them or not. This is his way of staying connected. Before he got a computer, we never heard from him at all. Other relatives will occasionally upload a photo every now and again. Still others are sharing recipes.
In the past year, my siblings have now begun to communicate more regularly via email than they ever did with postal mail. The three of us used email to plan the surprise party we gave my mother and stepfather for their 75th and 81st birthdays, respectively. It was an efficient way to share research, organize the details and update progress.

Technology is neutral; it is we users who determine its value. I have noticed that younger family members and friend play more with technology in ways that seem frivolous and often too revealing to me. I don’t want “ghetto snacks” or “to see what kind of gangsta I am” and other applications on Facebook. I have disconnected with many people who sent too many updates. Most of my family and friends within my age range use technology to communicate longer thoughts and ideas and rarely engage in shorthand statements. I recognize and work with our generational differences. At least we are communicating!

Internet technology is my friend and when it isn’t, I love the fact that it has an off-button that I can use to keep it from encroaching on real interactions in real time. The internet is keeping my family connected and shortens the physical distance that separates us. Before too long, I know that I will have my mother, sister, brother and son on Skype and we will get to see each other’s faces whenever we want and not just the once or twice a year when we are in the same place. I also anticipate it becoming commonplace for us to video conferencing capabilities to share weddings, graduations, and other events when cost and time concerns prevent some of us from getting to special events.


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