The screen is black.

“Lauren, are you there? Can you hear me? Can you see me?”

“No, mom. Your video isn’t on.”

“Where is that button? Where is your father? %&*@.” Click.

“Mom? Are you ok? Mom? MOM?”

Technology isn’t my parents forte. We rarely FaceTime. We don’t hangout on Google or chat on WhatsApp. You’d be hard-pressed to find my mother in a Zoom room. While my mom and dad prefer an old-fashioned phone call, there are so many other unique ways to stay in touch with our loved ones using technology (just not my loved ones!!).

However you decide to go about it, staying in touch with friends and family, especially during a crisis, is so important. Since we can’t meet in person, getting together online is a great substitute.

So, what technology is the best fit to keep your family connected and engaged during this time? Here’s a list (in order of my favorite) of the most popular means of staying connected, along with some info about each. Let us know what works best for you!

FaceTime

FaceTime is an app for one-on-one and group video calling. It’s so easy to use and it’s very popular with iPhone users. Unfortunately, it’s only available on Apple devices. So, it’s fairly limited.

Zoom

Much to my parents’ chagrin, we have hosted happy hours, birthdays and milestone events on Zoom since the start of the lockdown.

Zoom is designed for business meetings, but many people are using it as a way to communicate with friends. I open a Zoom room in the morning and keep it open all day. Friends and family pop on and off to say hello. I pay $14.99/month for my plan.

On the free plan you can hold meetings for up to 100 people and have unlimited one-on-one calls, too. There is a time limit of 40 minutes on group calls, but you can start a second call immediately and it’s only a slight interruption.

A Phone Call

If your family is anything like mine, then a phone call is the preferred method of contact. And lucky for you, it’s one of the simplest ways to stay in touch! One-on-one chats are great for easing anxiety and building relationships, and they’re the social distancing equivalent of going out for a cup of coffee and a catch-up.

Facebook Messenger

If most of your family and friends use Facebook, Facebook Messenger is a good way to stay in touch. It lets you easily exchange text messages, pictures, video, audio and other files, and also allows for voice and video calling with up to six participants.

If you’re a big family, a Facebook Group might be the way to go. Make sure it’s set to private, and then invite everyone via Facebook. You can post anything to the group, including live video. New members can be added at any time, and will see the whole of the chat history when they’re added.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp uses your phone’s cellular or Wi-Fi connection to facilitate messaging and voice calling to nearly anyone on the planet, alone or in a group with up to four participants, and is especially nice for families and small collaborative groups. The app lets you make calls, and send and receive messages, documents, photos, and videos.

To get started, all you have to do is download the free app to your phone and follow the instructions. Start a group and invite your friends and family using their phone numbers, or make a poster featuring an invite link to stick up in your apartment building or neighborhood.

Google Hangouts

If you already have a Google or Gmail account, you’ll find Google Hangouts very easy to use. Don’t worry if you don’t, though, as signing up for a Google account takes only a few minutes and is completely free.

Hangouts is also free to use, as long as the person you’re trying to reach also has Hangouts. Simply send an invitation to chat by email, or link your phone to make calls. You can also start long-running conversations with individuals or groups, allowing you to share pictures and send text messages.

If you like Google Hangouts, Google has several other products that might be useful for staying in touch. Google Photos, for example, backs up all your pictures online and lets you share them, while Google Drive lets you share files.

Skype

Skype is the go-to service when it comes to video calls. It’s free to call anyone as long as they also have Skype; you only need to pay a fee if you want to make a voice call directly to a landline or mobile phone.

Some people find Skype complicated to use. This is because different users have different types of account. Some will have a Skype name, some a number, and some a Microsoft account. This can make finding your friends and family on Skype somewhat tricky.

Start Today

There are so many different ways to connect with our loved ones, all from the comfort of our own home. Pick up the phone (or iPad, tablet, laptop, pen, pencil, markers…!) today and reach out to the people who matter most to you.