12 June 2010

Skyping your playdates

I remember when I was growing up and we used to run across the street to see our friends, or ride our bikes up the road to another friend's house. There were the few occasions that Mom would drive us to someone's house and we'd play there all day.

Fast forward to today, when many of those interactions are done virtually among today's children. Whether it be IM, text messaging or online gaming, kids today just don't see each other. They might communicate, but they don't interact. I see this as a problem, but apparently I'm not one of the cool kids, which isn't anything new. I mean, you don't get voted "Most Talkative" in high school because they like you, right?

I digress. The cool kids from yesteryear are now the cool parents who are experimenting with video playdates, which is exactly as it sounds -- kids playing with kids via computer modems and monitors. Which isn't really playing as much as watching a really lame reality TV show.

One of the leaders in this new realm of non-playing playdates is Lana Yarosh, a Ph.D. candidate in human-centered computing at Georgia Tech University. She's tinkered with regular video chats for kids, having kids play show-and-tell with multiple cameras and even WWE-style action sequences: "In another [method], playmates share a virtual playpen of sorts, where they see each others' toys and bodies projected onto the floor."

"They were jumping on top of each other. They were having battles. One of the kids said, 'This is a lot of fun and it's actually better than being in the same room because we're not hurting each other.' 

The purpose of these video playdates, Yarosh says, is for "friends to stay in touch when their parents can't drive them to each other's houses or to the park." To her credit, Yarosh does state that video playdates are "more work" because, you know, they're not in the same room. But Yarosh believes the same level of social interaction takes place in these virtual playdates.

The reaction by the masses: Thanks, but no thanks. I tend to agree. One of the highlights of the weekends for us is when Kaitlyn repeatedly asks us who we're going to see that day. It could be Declan-Lilly (they're always combined, I don't know why), it could be Baby E, it might be Sophia. She loves playing with her friends, running around in circles and pushing strollers and playing with dolls and cars and laughing. Lots and lots of laughing.

No matter how busy the schedule is, we'll always make time to bring Kaitlyn to see her friends. The need for interaction is important -- it helps shape who we are, it helps us later in life (see: School) and it creates a fun environment to explore and imagine.

Skype has its place; we love talking to Nana and Pop-Pop and Aunt Debbie, Uncle Chris and Cousin Colin and everyone else who has it. It just doesn't seem like a substitute for human interaction.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my online Scrabble game with Michelle. She's texting me feverishly from the other room because it's my turn. 

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