Bridging the miles with technology

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published December 11, 2019

METRO DETROIT — It would be unusual for a day to pass without Brendan Ross, of St. Clair Shores, or his wife texting one or another of their children or grandchildren, who live out of state.

But if a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes words just aren’t enough.

“I have a daughter, a son-in-law and two grandchildren who live in Boston, and we see them every few days via (Google) Duo,” Ross said. “We just visited there for a little over a week, but then my grandchildren will be at home in Boston, and we’re going to visit my son in Washington, D.C., at Christmastime, so undoubtedly from Washington we will use Duo to get in touch with the other little branch of our family.”

Ross, the “computer guru” at the St. Clair Shores Senior Activity Center, said that his grandchildren are ages 3 years and 10 months, so he feels he would miss out on a lot without apps that provide video services.

“There are those little things like, ‘Oh! Crawling! Oh! Standing!’ And soon, walking, swimming at the Y. All of those things keep us (connected),” he said.

Chris Frezza, the head of systems for the Suburban Library Cooperative, said that there are plenty of ways for families to connect face to face across the miles this holiday season and throughout the year.

“If you’ve got an iPhone or an Android device, you’ve got a built-in” camera to use, he said. “Skype, of course, used to be very popular (and) can be used on your mobile device or a PC or a Mac or a tablet.”

Using FaceTime, the proprietary app of Apple devices, is very easy for most people, he said, while other apps and programs may need a little more setup. Facebook has an application called WhatsApp that it is using to power its Facebook Portal devices to allow video communication between other portals, or with tablets or phones.

“I think this is almost going the way of how the telephone was. Everybody’s going to have a face-to-face connection,” Frezza said. “It doesn’t matter where they are in the world, because all you need is an internet connection. You don’t have to worry about long distance charges.”

At the senior center, Ross helps others learn how to use the technology they have, which oftentimes was given to them by well-meaning family members who want to connect across the country.

“They think (that) because they use computers every day in their life that this would be the communication tool used by mom to stay in touch with the world,” he said. “In fact, they’re stuck.”

Many people with Apple products can go to an Apple store to get support, he said, but he helps many who own Android devices learn to use them. Once they are set up with some sort of app or website for communication, Ross said, it is a good tool to keep in touch.

“If you have their email address or telephone number, these things work,” he said.

The most important thing is to try to get everyone in the family on the same type of technology.

“I kind of steer them,” Ross said, to Apple or Android products, depending on what their family members use.

Frezza said that even his 92-year-old grandmother uses her iPad to connect with the rest of the family.

“She clicks a button, she connects with whoever she wants to talk to — very simple,” he said.

Local libraries offer services to help with tech support, as well, Frezza said.

“A lot of the reference librarians nowadays are technology people. As we’re seeing the change in the public library from books to digital, the staff has to change with that,” he said. “Look on your local library’s website or talk to a reference librarian, see if (they) can help you out.”

WhatsApp is very popular overseas, Frezza said, and Amazon also sells devices that allow families to have a face-to-face connection.

Rachel Nagorsen, the sales manager at Lakeshore Senior Living in St. Clair Shores, said that plenty of their residents use technology to keep in touch with family. They also run a support group every few weeks called Tech Help with Rae to help seniors use the technology that keeps them connected.

“One resident has family in England; another resident, she has kids that live across the U.S. in general,” Nagorsen said. “They have the resources here where, if they get in a little glitch, folks can help them.”