Christmas goes high-tech

In the 1980s, AT&T told us to “reach out and touch someone.”

In 2010, doing so has become more possible than ever.

Thanks to advances in Internet technologies like the video web chat program Skype and social networking sites like Facebook, people are able now, more than ever, to stay in close contact with their loved ones.

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John Knapp takes a moment out of his day to check in with his family on Facebook. Knapp said he uses the technology on a regular basis to stay close with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

That gift of face-to-face communication is possibly one of the best gifts that Riana Renke and her husband, Nathanael, will receive this Christmas. The couple has been married since July, but had the relationship tested early on when Nathanael, who is a mechanic in the Army National Guard, was deployed to Iraq in September.

Thankfully, Riana said, a close friend of hers introduced her to Skype before Nathanael’s deployment, meaning that they did not have to be completely separated.

“I praise the person who brought Skype into our lives,” Riana said.

Riana said she and her husband easily are on Skype at least once a day, though their time together is limited due to the major time difference. Because Riana works nights, when Nathanael is up and about, the couple also makes good use of Yahoo’s messaging service, which links directly into her cell phone, allowing them more time to talk, even if it isn’t face to face.

With Christmas coming up, Riana said she and her husband intend to take full advantage of tools available to them to make the distance not feel quite as distant, especially since she found out that Nathanael will be off all day for the first time in a while. And even though most of that time he will be off is when she will be asleep, Riana said she is will not be deterred.

“I have to work at 7 a.m. on Christmas, but I completely do not care about it,” Riana said. “I would stay up until 4 o’clock in the morning talking to him if I could, and I probably will be.”

For some, the distance that will be between them and their loved ones this Christmas is more of a personal decision than it would be for Nathanael and Riana.

Milieta Valenzula is a 17-year-old junior who is spending a year studying as a foreign exchange student at Helias Catholic High School.

Valenzula, who is from Hermosillio, Sonora, Mexico, has been living with her host family, the Fennesseys, in Wardsville since August. However, she has not had the pleasure of enjoying the face-to-face conversations of Skype that whole time, since she did not have a computer of her own.

It wasn’t until Valenzula participated in what many would call a strictlyAmerican phenomenon and sat out in front of Best Buy on Black Friday that she was able to buy a laptop computer capable of linking her up with her family and boyfriend.

Since that time, she has been a constant user.

“Pretty much every day,” Valenzula said.

“(She will) get home from school, go to her room, eat, go back in, use the bathroom once, go to bed, wake up and constantly be on,” jokingly added Helias senior Seth Fennessey, a member of her host family.

While she said the majority of her conversations have been with her brother, Louis, and her boyfriend, Gustavo Gonzalez, Skype has recently also allowed her friends back home to enjoy one particular event that they would not otherwise have an opportunity to experience.

“I was talking with three of my best friends, and I was like ‘Do you want to see the snow?’ and then I carried the computer outside and showed them,” Valenzula said.

For others, just the joy that comes from the written word can be enough to make the holidays bright. John Knapp, 94, has lived at Heisinger Bluffs for more than two years. As a navigator in the 8th Air Corps, Knapp said he can vividly remember the days when he and his wife would have to write letters to each other, with a month’s worth of delay between question and answer.

These days, it’s rare for him not to get a response back on Facebook from his grandson, Ben Krech, on his newest poem he has written.

Knapp said that while his family has been very tight-knit for years, Facebook has helped to make that relationship even stronger through constant daily contact between family members.

“I had a good mother, and she taught me a good lesson,” Knapp said. “She said, ‘Keep your relatives friends. You’ll need them when you grow up.’ And I discovered that she was right.”

This Christmas, Knapp said one of the most useful applications he has found on Facebook with his family has been the chance to coordinate all of the holiday get-togethers. But even in this age of advanced technology, Knapp said there is one obstacle that could mess everything up.

“We are just hoping that the weather cooperates with us,” he said with a smile.

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