Celebrating the holidays remotely and online

Just because you’re separated geographically doesn’t mean you can’t connect with family and friends for the holidays. Online technology makes it possible to reach out via voice, video, text and pictures to share memories and holiday wishes.

Facebook is the predominant social network for staying connected. Service members and their families use Facebook to share pictures and stories and for messaging while their loved ones are away serving our country. Skype is another immensely popular tool that allows you to make free phone calls to anyone with a Skype account (which is free) and supports video and instant messaging as well. Skype recently announced video calling through Facebook, which is a perfect integration of these two services that will make it feel like you’re there in person for the holidays.

New to Skype? No worries. Here’s what Skype is in a nutshell, according to the Skype folks themselves: “You can use Skype on whatever works best for you – on your phone or computer or a TV with Skype on it. It is free to start using Skype – to speak, see and instant message other people on Skype for example. You can even try out group video, with the latest version of Skype.”

See the Skype tutorial for beginners if you haven’t already created a Skype account.

Apple’s iPhone offers several different features for staying in touch. And Apple’s iMessage service now allows free text messaging to anyone with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. And the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s support FaceTime, which allows for video phone calls directly through your iPhone to another iPhone user.

You can also use free apps and your mobile phone’s camera to live broadcast using Ustream  or Livestream. And YouTube and Vimeo both allow for easy upload and free hosting for your video. As long as people have an Internet connection, they’ll be able to see/hear your holiday message. Technology. Don’t you love it?!

Twitter is a good option for getting short bursts of information out to people. Google offers a chat function and Facebook also supports chat. If you’ve got photos you want to share, Flickr offers a way to easily upload and share photos and even group them into albums and collections. You can always send an e-card, which is delivered instantly and will save you the trip out to the card store and postage.

Of course there is the good old-fashioned phone call to say, “Hi!,” to your loved ones on the holidays. Chances are your grandparents will find this medium the preferred way to reach out, although online technologies continue to be adopted en masse by people of all ages.