I would have a really hard time imagining Christmas this year without Skype and e-mail – in short, without digitization. Because things are quite a bit different at home this year. And that's why video chat, short messages with photos and social media like Snapchat and Facebook are very popular with us right now.
The reason for this is my 15-year-old daughter, who is in the middle of a six-month exchange program with a host family in Florida. It can be very discomforting for a parent, even making me feel a bit like a teenager myself. It feeds an unrequited yearning toward my daughter, even though just five months ago, it seemed she was driving me crazy at least every other day.
That's why the holiday season can sometimes be so melancholy: because you miss your loved ones who are so far away. We've always had very traditional Christmases in my family: we get together next to the Christmas tree, have a festive meal and finally have time to enjoy one another's company. The holidays give us an unusual amount of time and space for contemplation. And when an important part of the family is missing, then the longings threaten to become the focus – every time I think of the Christmas holidays.
So what is making these holidays a bit more tolerable for me and my husband? Globalization with the Internet. Just set up the tablet and call up a video chat app – and it starts ringing in Florida, around 7,700 kilometers away as the crow flies. Of course we set up the time for the video chat beforehand, with an SMS. And lo and behold, quick as a flash, our daughter's cheeky smile appears on the tablet screen. Our longings taper off and a feeling of togetherness and happiness comes over the isolated parents. Over the next half-hour, we have a lively, animated video chat. Our tomcat has to join the party, of course, taking a seat on my lap. He doesn't react to his owners' face, though. It seems he isn't a digital native, although his birth year of 2014 might make you think otherwise. All the same, the virtual family reunion makes him purr.
Opening the presents under the tree during a video chat isn't possible this year, though, because it costs far too much to send the packages to the U.S. While we parents miss the lit-up faces – which are still possible, even in adolescence – the nearly 8,000 kilometer distance is tangible after all.
The time in front of the tablet goes by in a flash. But we slowly run out of stories to tell and everyone has things in their analog surroundings, too, that demand our attention. Many virtual hugs and kisses later, we tap the "End call" button, already looking forward to the next texts, photos, snapchats and Facebook posts. But above all, we're looking forward to giving our daughter a real, long, analog hug at the airport in just a month's time.
My wish for the next digital Christmas: beaming! Like I remember from Star Trek. That would make sure that we can celebrate every future Christmas together.