My mom has four siblings. My dad has two. All but one of the eight couples (including my parents) live in the same city. Communication for my parents and their siblings has been like a sales team working out of the same office – they aren’t always together, but they usually see each other once a week. They can use the time they are physically together to catch up, make future plans, or just enjoy each other’s company.
For me and my siblings, it’s different. With my youngest sister set to leave home in a few months, we’ll soon all be spread out at least a few hundred miles from home.
While we’ll meet up a few times every year (and maybe a few more times in smaller groups), we need to continue to communicate to continue to build relationships with one another.
For a long period in history, this was solved by writing letters. No one does that any more, right? Okay, so we’ll skip this one.
Then the telephone came along. Suddenly humans could talk to humans (could hear their actual voice!) without standing next to them. It was an incredible advancement for communication, and it was the norm for spread-out families for a little more than a century.
A few decades ago, we were introduced to email. We all know about email (as if we didn’t know about letters and telephones). While email is less personal than a phone call, it does offer something the phone doesn’t – a lack of timing. If you were away and missed a phone call, that point of communication is lost. Sure, answering machines and voice mail systems solved that to some extent. But I’d say a call, especially within your family, usually required a call back. Email doesn’t care if you’re home or not. It waits for you.
(Don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you on email.)
A few years later, we learned about text messages, which is essentially just another email inbox. It’s just usually a little cleaner and the messages are shorter.
And finally, the coolest invention of them all (so far) came along – video chat! Not only could you hear the voices of your family members, but you could see them, too! Like phone calls, you have to be present for this to work. But with the addition of text messaging, it’s as simple as asking all partakers when they will be available.
All of these inventions revolutionized the way in which families could communicate with one another. You and your family are probably using some combination of the above, except for maybe that whole writing letters thing.
We are, too. But we’re doing one thing differently.
Earlier this year, my sister was coming to visit my wife, my brother, and I (the three of us live in the same city). There were too many details to plan via a group text. So someone started an email conversation about the weekend visit. Separately, and somewhat unrelated, another one of us started an email conversation about what to do for my youngest sister’s birthday. At some point, the conversations merged into one, but the two email threads remained separated. Half of the conversation was in each thread of messages. Eventually, I was completely lost and a little frustrated.
That was, as they say, my final straw. There had been a few other instances like this up to that point, and I knew something needed to change.
The simple solution would have been to discuss as a family how we use email and plan events and that sort of thing. But all too often in life we recognize a problem, talk about it, solve it in the short term, and improve our happiness a bit. And don’t those problems always come back in one form or another? I know, it can be part of life sometimes. But this felt different. We needed to shake it up.
I had been using a new messaging tool at work called Slack. If you haven’t heard of Slack, it’s awesome. It’s built for teams to communicate with each other. And it’s been so successful that it was evaluated at $2 billion within two years of launch.
At that time, I also was working on a side project with a few friends. We had decided to drop email completely and communicate almost solely using Slack.
I had a thought. I knew Slack was built for work teams. And I knew it directed its feature sets to solving communication problems within a work team. But a family is like a team. A family is a team. And just like any group of professionals, a family needs communication to succeed and persist. So maybe it would work.
I’m fortunate to have a family of open-minded humans, and they all agreed to try it. And when I can’t even get all 10 people in my office to use Slack, I was ecstatic we were all at least willing to try.
It was rough at first. My mom is hesitant with new technologies. She’s willing to try, but it better be easier than the thing she was using before, or it won’t work for her. Fortunately, Slack is that simple. My dad didn’t like the way it handled push notifications. My sister made fun of us for not wanting to text. My wife didn’t like that it was more focused on the computer app, because she doesn’t sit at a computer all day.
And we had a few bumps along the way, but we’ve now been using it for several months. Everyone participates. Everyone is informed on all family matters. And no one complains (at least not to me!).
So, how does my family communicate?
- For short, one-on-one conversations, we tend to text one another. Slack has direct messaging, but it’s not as convenient as a text.
- For anything that more than one person needs to know, we use a channel on Slack (we use a private one only if someone needs to be excluded).
- For something hilarious, like when mom discovered GIPHY (actually, I’m not sure she knows about GIPHY – maybe she won’t read this article), we use Slack. And for something terrifying, like anything related to Donald Trump, we use Slack.
- When a message is already contained within an email, like an e-commerce coupon, we usually just forward the email.
- When we want to show something that’s happening in our lives, we use SnapChat (yes, everyone in my family snaps, and it’s fantastic).
- And when we miss someone, or need to have a real chat with them, we use FaceTime.
It’s best when we’re all together. But when we’re not, we’re always in touch.