Family the new friend in virtual times
Swati Rai

with the growing number of Internet users in India there has been a concomitant change in familial dynamics too. When everyoneís hard pressed for time between deadlines and time crunches familial bonding has now also gone virtual

The virtual connection that the child shares with his "friend" and "followers" on Facebook and Twitter has made parents and families join the many networking sites and add their respective family members as "friends" on the social media. For the older generation it is more the case of "if you canít beat them, join them".

No surprises then that most social media has applications like the family circle, the family tree and also has a relations block in the "about me" column! It is not uncommon to "chat" with your family virtually especially if you are away from home or to be tagged in your many family trips album by one of your family members. The familiarity and the ease of handling technology is also a contributing factor to even the traditionally not-so-tech-savvy moms jumping onto the social media bandwagon and why not? Not only immediate family members but also extended family, including cousins, aunts, uncles and also distant relatives are all a part of one big happy social media family.

Public vs private

The boundaries of public and private domain as we knew earlier are blurring now as even the most as virtual intimate confessions are now being publicly made on social media, on pages such as IIT &IIM Confessions community on Facebook. It is not surprising then that the family is being included in the trust circle yet again. As the mother of a teenager who just gifted a smartphone to her daughter as gift on her sixteenth birthday says, "Technology is a part of our childrenís life. What is important is for us as parents to equip them with tools of judgment for judicious usage of the same! Moreover I also get to know whatís happening in her life more than I would if I didnít have her status messages to read. "

This newly connected virtual family time is not the solution to the lack of communication in the family just as it is not the only reason of disintegrating familial values. Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Science, Fortis Healthcare, New Delhi, says, "Surely we canít ignore the intricate part that technology is of our lives, yet, for it to become a substitute for real-time communication and empathy is too far-fetched and flawed to imagine. It will only be detrimental if we were to bank heavily on it to provide us familial support and security."

Not to say that this should be the preferred mode of communication, yet it is here and for us to see. Dr Simmi Waraich, consultant psychologist, Fortis Healthcare Mohali, says, "With the growing knowledge and awareness of technology amongst the older generation now, they are also comfortable in sharing virtual space with their family and friends. How and what one shares is of course oneís personal choice and reflects on oneís personality too. It also helps them keep in touch with oneís family and of course at the end of the day one can always manage oneís account settings in all sites for controlled sharing."

Sharing stuff

Sharing a picture, jokes or gags, messages for private consumption, itís all in the family now, virtually! A number of people are now "connecting" with their family members over social games score or just by commenting randomly on a status message. As everyone becomes more and more hard pressed for time, family is the new Ďfriend,í at least virtually.

Family in the Net

Take your pick among the fast-growing number of sites for the family!

Family leaf: Share photographs and messages with your connections on a secure network.

E family: For those who would rather have a more intimate sharing and make their own collaborative family tree.

Weourfamily: Designed to provide the privacy and control needed for real relationships and sharing your
life with family.

Rootsy: Avoid third-party logins and connect with your relatives using interactive family tree tools.

Origami: Just as Origami shapes start the same way, from one square of paper, in the same way the site believes that we all start from the same material yet our families help in crafting us into different materials.

Path: By limiting the number of friends of each user to 50, Path focusses on sharing with a close network of family and friends.