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Jason Campbell, Christina Campbell and 17-month-old Ava Campbell use Skype to keep in touch with family. (Della Rollins/Della Rollins for the Globe and Mail.)
Jason Campbell, Christina Campbell and 17-month-old Ava Campbell use Skype to keep in touch with family. (Della Rollins/Della Rollins for the Globe and Mail.)

Grandma's lap? How about her laptop? Add to ...

The band was young, yes, but the raw talent of its members was undeniable. And when they played an exclusive show - invitation only, and staged at an intimate Waterloo, Ont., venue - Liisa Salatino was there, front and centre.

The band - made up of Ms. Salatino's three blond grandkids, aged 2, 4 and 8 - "performed" a short set using the musical video game Rock Band.

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Had they attempted this over the phone, Ms. Salatino, who lives almost 1,500 kilometres away in Thunder Bay, Ont., likely would've hung up on the cacophony before the chorus of the first song. But her grandkids had carried their parents' laptop into the family room and, through the video application iChat, let their 57-year-old grandmother watch them wildly play the plastic guitar and croon into the microphone.

When that crisp $10 bill and birthday card in the mail just aren't enough, grandparents are making the leap from rotary phone to webcam in attempts to stay connected to their grandchildren.

"I find with the phone, they're just like, 'Hello. How are you? I love you. Okay, we're gone!' " Ms. Salatino says. "But when we're on the screen in front of each other, they're more animated and we really, really like it."

Picking up on grandparents' desire to connect with their offspring's offspring, Google released a playful video tutorial this month called Grandmother's Guide to Video Chat. Jason Toff, an associate product marketing manager at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., says many grandparents are eager to speak to their grandchildren by whatever means possible, but often don't know how to get connected to newer forms of technology without a little help. "It's a generational thing," he says. "[My grandmother]read the instruction manual for everything she bought."



Christina Campbell, 32, learned the power of video chats a few months ago when her in-laws came to visit her family in Markham, outside Toronto, from their home in Huron County, Ont. Ms. Campbell's daughter Ava, now 16 months old, "was a bit confused by who they were and it took her a long time to warm up," she says.

Yet her daughter reacted very differently when an uncle came to visit from Germany. The difference? She had seen her uncle weekly on Skype video chats. After seeing her daughter's reaction, Ms. Campbell decided she'd do regular video chats with her in-laws, too, to maintain that bond between them and her daughter.

"It's the consistency of seeing that person and putting the face to the voice. It's just [Ava]leaning over our shoulders and making funny faces," Ms. Campbell explains.

While Ava's grandfather can't hug her or pinch her cheeks over the Web, he does a regular routine where he recites a rhyme, reaches his index finger out to the camera and "pokes" her belly, which always elicits a giggle from the toddler.

Ava is too young for phone or text communication, which is why video chats are the best way for her to connect with her grandparents. But for seniors with teen grandkids, it's simply the technology they prefer.

"Grandchildren aren't going to pick up the phone and say, 'Hi grandmother!' in the middle of the day," notes Jonathan Elias, a Toronto entrepreneur who offers computer-training services to seniors. "They love the concept [of video chat]because they get to speak a lot more hours on average with their grandkids with this tool. It also makes them feel young and hip."

He taught Frances Kaplan, a 65-year-old client, how to use Skype and iChat so that she could communicate with her tech-savvy grandkids.

"I think because everything is texting and such that we're kind of in a world that you don't have to see people," Ms. Kaplan says.

But her two oldest grandchildren are willing to talk to grandma via video chat regularly - even though they live in the same city.

When Ms. Kaplan has computer problems, her 15-year-old grandson helps her troubleshoot via video chat. The 17-year-old, an aspiring filmmaker, sends her links to his short films on YouTube; she gives him immediate feedback by webcam.

"In my day, you went to visit your grandparents, you had sit-down dinner with your family," she says. Video chatting, she adds, is a pretty decent substitute. "You feel a little more connected when you can see the person."

Ms. Salatino's daughter, Cynthia Kinnunen (mother of the three Rock Band stars), says her kids don't understand why she bothers talking with her parents on the phone any more when they have access to video chat.

"I'm on the phone with mom and dad several times a week. [The kids say] 'Can we get on Skype, can we get on iChat?' " she says. "It's a lot of fun seeing them trying to cram into one screen to get noticed and fight for attention."

The video chats started because she didn't want geography to prevent her kids from bonding with their grandparents. It's clear that problem has been largely overcome. Before a recent swim, they begged of her: "Can't we bring the computer to the pool?"

 

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