Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Virtual Mobility

My children are virtually mobile. What I mean by virtually mobile is that they can move from social network to social network without losing their friends.

I once read an article that said that kids have multiple e-mail addresses and/or messenger IDs, and I just couldn't imagine that. Changing e-mail addresses is so painful to me that I don't tell any of my actual friends what my work address is. I own a domain name, and that is where my main e-mail is.

I use a number of social networks. A large number. I wish they were coordinated, but they are not, so I have separate and overlapping sets of contacts/colleages/links/friends/younameits. At least 3 of those networks would be hard for me to abandon easily. Anyone who has played an online multi-player game knows the pain of having to tell your virtual friends you are leaving. That is virtual immobility.

My children, however, are virtually mobile. I thought I had solved some problems when I signed them both up for gmail, so they could correspond with their relatives overseas. Everyone was happy with that for about a week, until the kids saw me using Facebook.

So I set them up with a Facebook account. My mom and siblings duly got Facebook accounts to connect with my kids. (One of my sisters appears to use it also to communicate with her in-laws, a thought I find even more horrifying than using it to communicate with my mother.) My kids stopped looking at their gmail and started looking only at Facebook, because 7-year-olds apparently aren't into writing long letters, but sending a hatching dragon or throwing a plate of virtual spaghetti is appealing.

That was all good and fine, until kids in the class started getting webkinz, which is a kind of stuffed animal who lives in a virtual habitat at In this virtual world, the animal has a job, a home, and apparently FRIENDS. When you come to think of this, what are you going to say to your friend about your day when you just spent the whole of it in school together, and then after school together? Nothing. But your pet walrus might have something to send to the friend's pet marabou.

One day, webkinz will not be the thing. Some other social network will be the thing. But for my kids, it doesn't matter. They see their friends every day. They'll immediately know the social network du jour. That makes them virtually mobile.

Apparently, being virtually mobile is in inverse proportion to how geographically mobile you are. My kids don't have many friends in other schools, much less other towns or countries. Most of my friends work and live in a different location from me, and that makes all the difference in my virtual mobility.

Which brings me back to nagging my kids to return letters in their Gmail and to check Facebook to see if Grandma sent a hatching dragon. I guess parenting hasn't changed that much since I was a kid.

No comments: