23    Dec 20090 comments

Using Technology to Stay Connected with your Family (Part 1)

This is the first in a two-part series where we'll be looking at how technology and social media platforms help families to stay better connected. Since this is the season for spending time with those close to you, we thought this might offer you some ideas for keeping in touch when the new year comes round.

Earlier in the year, in July, we attended a conference called Reboot Britain, where the main focus of discussion was on using technology to re-start the local economy. The event was attended by government officials, entrepreneurs, academics, film makers, politicians, teachers, and even some young children. There were many different cross-sections of society present, but all of these people were interested in one thing: the opportunities that exist in a technologically-connected society and how we can best use those to help get the local economy back on its feet.

We felt it was the perfect environment in which to pull out our camera and find out how some of the smartest, most technologically-aware people are staying connected to their families. The results were a little surprising. It became very clear, over the course of the day, that not all technology is created equal, and technology played different roles for different people in the ways they connected with others.

One theme that we found really interesting, and which appeared to be quite important to some of the people at the conference, was the idea of technology as a way of sharing information about what's happening within the family. Technology was even used to help make smarter decisions as a family, and to help inform any decisions that needed to be made.

One of the people we interviewed was Peter Cook, a management consultant and author with two children, one aged 15 and the other 12. He talks about how, as a parent of digitally-connected children, he needs to be creative and to find smart ways of negotiating with his kids - to gain their attention, or to organise a family trip to the seaside, for example. Peter also highlights how, because of technology, his children are able to perform research, and make informed recommendations, such as which film to go and watch in the cinema, something which wouldn't have been as easy to do in the past. He highlights the benefits of increased family cohesion - "as long as Grandma can get on the internet" - and also refers to the use of mobile phones and the internet in times of family emergency, with people going in and out of hospitals, as invaluable for staying connected. You can watch his interview here:

One thing that Peter Cook had in common with Benjamin Ellis, an entrepreneur and founder of RedCatco, a social technology company, was using technology to become aware of family emergencies. Benjamin is constantly on the road or at conferences, and sometimes the quickest way he can find out about what's been happening in his family is through a status update, like when his wife had to take his son to A&E because of a broken arm. Benjamin also, like Peter, appreciates the use of technology to help stay connected with his family. If he didn't have the online tools, the only way he could imagine being up-to-date with his family would be through calling and speaking on the phone with everyone. But because of the busy schedules everyone has, it's more likely that on the phone he would constantly be playing telephone tag, leaving endless voicemails, and never really speaking to anyone. Instead of that, through the help of online social platforms his family can leave messages for him, and he can update them on what he's up to when he has the time to do so, making sure everyone stays in touch in a more meaningful way. You can watch his interview and hear more from him about how important social media is to him here:

The internet, for a family, offers powerful ways to share information about what's happening in the family, and to share knowledge and information about each other. Through simple mechanisms like status updates and social networking platforms it can become very empowering for family members to stay connected and to stay current with what's happening in both the immediate family and the wider extended family.

Did you know that there are many ways of staying up-to-date with your family just from within the Family Site you can set up on MyHeritage.com? For example, just by having dates of birth and wedding anniversaries in people's profiles you can receive email updates, reminding you of upcoming occasions. You can even post news and provide your family with status updates, directly within your family site. MyHeritage.com even lets you have forums, so that you can post updates and announcements that only your family members can see. If you've never used those features before, you may want to give them a try.

We'd like to end by hearing from you. What are your favoured methods for staying up-to-date with your family? Do you use emails? SMS messages? Photos? Status updates? Or do you just not have the time? Leave your responses in the comments below!

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