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Social media helps far-flung families connect this holiday season

Without platforms like Facebook, Skype, and Google +, it would be much harder for some far-flung extended families to stay connected this holiday season.

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Photo sharing apps such as Instagram allow users to show friends what makes home for the holidays special in a creative and beautiful way, says Rotolo. And we shouldn't forget other digital gifts either, he says, from Kindles and iPads to virtual goods like Facebook or Xbox credits, app downloads, and music.“Christmas 2012, he notes, “ is about sharing online.”

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Of course, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, points out Laurie Puhn, author of “Fight Less, Love More: 5 Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In.”  Particularly when holiday gatherings are full of many  generations, Ms. Puhn says it is critical to honor those who are actually present at a gathering. “It’s all too easy to become a techno-pest,” she says, with people answering cell phones, texting, or just plain fiddling with smart phones instead of being present with friends and family.

Puhn recommends deciding on which technologies will play a part at a gathering in advance, “and conducting a few dry runs.” This becomes especially important if only a few of those present are tech-savvy and there may be confusion or a need to explain what’s going on. And, if anyone is trying out a new application, that could be particularly disastrous, she says.

“What you really don’t want is someone spending an entire dinner fussing with trying to get the new app to work correctly,” she says. “This kind of distraction is what I call the new rude.”

Careful planning is just what Santa ordered, says Brian Block, from Pierpont Communications in Houston. His first move with any gift giving is to ease the frustration that comes with any learning curve. “If anyone in my  family gets or gives a new device, the first thing I am going to do is program it with everything I think they might need or want to use and then show them exactly how to use it,” he says.

“We will use social media to keep our family in touch,” Mr. block says. But, he adds, he won’t let it take over.

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