Sunday, December 24, 2006

Virtual Holidays, Family Dinners, and Other Reunions?

Are you unable to travel to be with family for the holidays this year? If so, some new technology that's being developed may (in the future) help you share a meal with them, or open gifts together, or just spend some time visiting in the virtual world.

I just read this interesting piece on Yahoo! from the Associated Press about a new system called "The Virtual Family Dinner" that would allow families to get together -- virtually -- as often as they'd like. This would be especially useful when there are elderly family members who are not able to travel and whose loved ones may not be able to make it home for the holidays or frequent visits.

It's a simple concept. For example if you have an elderly man or woman living in Florida or California, ready to sit down for dinner. The system, consisting of speakers and a screen (as big as a television or as small as a picture frame) detects it and alerts (possibley through a message on the TV) a son or daughter in New York. The son or daughter would then go to the kitchen, dining room, etc. with a similar set-up where a small camera and microphone capture what he or she is doing. The system allows the cross-country folks to hear and see each other.

Some experts think the system could address a growing problem with the elderly who live alone. But others argue this could pose a problem with privacy issues so some type of care must be used when setting up the system so that the person could have control over turning the system off.

Cost may also be a consideration, at least initially. When a prototype becomes available, possibly in about two years, it likely will cost $500 to $1,000 per household.

I am a big fan of new technology. Although I can appreciate the privacy issues, I think that if used properly this type of device could be great for families who can't always reunite as often as they'd like. In fact, I could use one of these devices today as I will be missing out on the traditional Slovak Christmas Eve Supper (Vilija) with my extended family in Pittsburgh this year. This tradition was such a big part of my family for so many years, so it would be nice to have a way to keep it going long-distance even if just virtually.

I will be keeping my eye out for further announcements about this forthcoming technology!

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