I remember when the iPhone 4 came out. This one came with a technology that was going to blow minds… FaceTime. Even though Skype and other mobile video chat services had already been around for some time, the mere act of it being packaged as a free iPhone to iPhone communication tool made it all the more interesting, accessible and ‘sexy’.
Because I live far from the vast majority of my family, FaceTime has taken on a new level of importance, especially since I’ve become a mother. While I may have used this technology more sparingly for calls home had it been around when I was in college or the early years of my professional life (do you really need your parents to see bags under your eyes from pulling all-nighters?), now it has become an invaluable tool for helping strengthen the bonds between my daughter and family members across the country. I’d argue that this effort has been successful… successful to the point that my child is tremendously disappointed when she can only hear somebody on the phone instead of seeing and talking to them.
Regrettably, however, my two most memorable FaceTime conversations were the last time I spoke to two beloved family members who have since passed away: My maternal grandmother, who passed about a year and a half ago, and my paternal grandfather, who passed just a few weeks ago. Both conversations were markedly similar. My once-vivacious, highly-engaging grandparent in the bed where they would take their last breath, having full comprehension of what was going on around them, but at this point of their respective illnesses having taken over, they were unable to verbally respond.
I have my regrets about these last moments: about not having been able to physically be there, to hold their hand or hug or kiss them one last time. But at the same time, I realize that had my parents (who were at each bedside) and I not both had this easy-to-use method to connect, that last conversation would have involved one less sensorial dimension, sight. While this was a perspective that was crucial for my understanding the gravity and terminal nature of my grandparents’ conditions, it was also important for helping me feel a little less removed, a little less helpless, despite being hundreds of miles away.
Previously I’ve alluded to our universal tech addiction causing somewhat problematic disengagement from our immediate environment; And yes, I still believe that that holds true. But at the same time I am infinitely grateful for its ability to expand the scope of our world beyond that which is physically within our reach.
Relationships are complicated, and I recognize that being the case with my personal addiction to and simultaneous criticism of technology. But at the end of the day, especially in a climate of increasing doubt and outright fear, I am infinitely grateful for its ability to help us supersede physical boundaries to build, maintain, and grow the personal bridges that bring us comfort.