Would the FaceTime friend feel left out because she was only virtually connected? Would the live friend think that she was getting dissed?
I stepped into the basement playroom where nine-year-old Liddy sat hunched on the floor, arranging freshly sharpened pencils alongside crisp white sheets of paper.
“Hey Liddy? Five minutes ’til dinner.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Hi, Liddy’s mom!” said a little voice behind me.
I swung around to see her friend’s smiling face, reduced to a small, smiling rectangle propped on the desk.
“Oh, Bessie! Hi.” I laughed, immediately grateful that I hadn’t walked in wearing a towel or yelling about something I didn’t need Bessie’s family, hidden somewhere in the background of that screenshot, to overhear.
I made a mental note to add another guideline to the list: I needed to know when Liddy had guests, whether virtual or in person.
For the first few months Liddy owned an iPod touch, she’d used it only sporadically, to listen to Meghan Trainor, play “Virtual Family,” and send me goofy texts filled with panda emojis. But when Bessie changed schools unexpectedly, Liddy was heartbroken, and it seemed like a small comfort to have the girls exchange contact information so they could text.
Then Liddy’s iPod trilled out a FaceTime invite one evening and my husband and I locked eyes in that flash of parental cognition that we’d failed to think something through to its logical conclusion. What kind of slippery slope have we stepped out on? Was this a great idea, or a very, very bad one? What’s the emoji for “Oh, crap. Now what have we done?”
Flash forward a few months and now there are five little girls, with freshly minted iPods, engaging in semi-regular virtual playdates. There have been some sticking points along the way — like what it means when Liddy is hanging out with one friend in person and wants include another via FaceTime. Would the FaceTime friend feel left out because she was only virtually connected? Would the live friend think that she was getting dissed?
Fortunately, so far, those fears have been unfounded. I know because I check in and remind Liddy to be aware of the possibility, but also because I can hear them all whooping it up and laughing — in person and through the iPod speaker, with its volume cranked as high as it will go.
And these playdates are much more interactive than I would have imagined. Liddy runs through the house holding her iPod aloft, banging a song out on the piano while a friend joins in from several blocks away. They show off art projects they are each working on, or write silly poems together, or even play virtual family — with humans. And they still get plenty of face-to-face time along with the FaceTime. Electronic get-togethers have not replaced the real-world ones.
I’m reminded again that the questions I mistakenly believe our generation of parents faces for the first time are not so far off from the ones my own parents wrangled with in the era when I’d spend half the afternoon dialing a friend, hearing a busy signal, then hanging up and dialing another friend to try to figure out who was talking on the phone without me.
And I recently realized that I was Liddy’s same age when my fourth grade science book promised a future of moving sidewalks, computers that talked, and phones that had video feeds. Those ideas seemed outlandish to a ten-year-old in 1982. Outlandish, and totally awesome.