It was a typical mother-daughter conversation, toggling between the banal and the profound. "You look tired," I said to her, trying to keep both accusation and worry out of my voice.
"Oh, I'm exhausted, it's been a long week," she replied. "In fact, I'm going to go to bed early tonight, but first I want to show you my new coat."
"I love it," I said. "That colour is great with your hair."
We talked for a few minutes about deeper matters – her museum job, applying to graduate school, why she loves studying history – and then she said, "Mom are those new earrings? They look great on you."
All in all, an intimate dialogue between an attentive mother and her 23-year-old daughter, exceptional only because she currently lives and works in Paris and I'm in Toronto, where I miss her terribly. Seeing her live on Skype means we can have a real relationship, in real time, despite the distance.
This is a peripatetic generation of kids – they are always off somewhere – this one to Seoul to teach English for two years, that one over in Dublin with a new job, another one finishing her PhD in London.
What is different from previous generations is that technology has made it so much easier to connect with them. But has it made it too easy? Has the romance and adventure been sapped from post-grad travel? Many parents no longer worry whether their kids have been mugged or are sleeping on a park bench somewhere, because, well, they now immediately know the exact shade of their new Parisian coat (taupe).
Back in the Paleolithic era – when my husband was doing post-grad work at the London School of Economics – he used to line up at a pay phone maybe once a month to dutifully call home to Montreal, where in what seemed like an echo chamber, he had a stilted conversation with his Mom, Dad and siblings that focused mainly on the fact that they could hear him "just fine" and "how is the weather?" " What?" "The weather!"
While he liked hearing their voices, any substantive information was exchanged in letters, which his devoted mother kept and presented back to him decades later.
Contrast that with my Montreal niece Dalia, who a year or so ago was living and working in London. Her mother told me, "we didn't miss her in the same way because every week or 10 days we would Skype and there she was, in the same room as we were. We could walk her around the house, have supper with her, and have an in-depth chat." She could keep up with her two younger sisters, and they even held their huge dog Griffin up to the screen for a slobbery look.
We know that parents and kids are more connected in good ways and bad these days – many kids go off to university and still phone home every night, some wondering what to cook for dinner. Parents who thought they were finally catching a break get exasperated at how quickly their university-age kids dump bad news – a poor grade, a breakup, a lost cellphone – on the parental unit still barely getting used to a kid-free cocktail hour. "Can't they hold anything back?" has been a familiar refrain. (It's the flip side of the helicopter-parent stereotype.)
So now we have Skype, the free, online-video calling system that, across miles and through time zones, puts us visually inches away from our offspring. I've met my daughter's new roommate on the video screen (a quick embarrassed wave of the hand). I've chatted with her charming French boyfriend and tried to get to know him a little bit (all the while wondering why I didn't put lipstick on because those video images are pretty awful and only the young look glorious.)
But they are not really interested in what I look like. My daughter, into her second year in France, says she just likes the fact that she can see us. "It helps me not miss home so much."
It also is a bonus that these Skype dates are relatively planned, more like a visit than an intrusive (from their point of view) parental call that never quite catches them in the mood to talk. (Is anyone in the mood to talk on the phone any more?)
And most kids are still firmly in control of that "gotta go, bye for now" moment. Not to mention the flow of real information. I can't imagine that many twentysomethings, during a video call, would pan the camera over their apartment , trashed from that party they had the previous night.
Of course, parents love it. Why wouldn't we? In fact, my theory is you might have a better chance of an in-depth chat with your twentysomething when they're Skyping from Seoul instead of, say, sitting at the kitchen table fiddling with their smart phones.
So my fear is not that Skype is too connecting, too intimate or too controlling. No, it's the obvious – it's so fantastic that soon they will make us pay for it.