Gill Smith
Gill Smith - Comedy Writer & Performer

On The Web, January 2002 - Keeping In Touch

Links may be out of date and no longer work.

Christmas is coming, and Iím sure Iím not alone in dreading all the effort involved - between shopping, cooking, and travelling, how do you find time to write cards, send thank-you letters, and catch up with friends and family? And those promises to see be in better contact - how can you actually keep them this year?

The internet can help. For a start, relatives and friends may be on e-mail. Include your e-mail address on your Christmas cards so people can contact you. You might end up exchanging more than just the annual card with old friends.

If you have peopleís e-mail addresses, why not send an e-card? These usually have a picture, often animated, and your personal message. Blue Mountain (www.bluemountain.com) offers cards for all occasions. E-Greetings (www.egreetings.com) does too. Local sites sometimes offer picture Ďe-postcards.í Be careful when selecting the date to send it - sometimes dates are in the US format (month first), and also give people time to read their e-mail before Christmas. Of course, if you forgot, at least Ďlast postingí date is Christmas Day itself!

If youíre chatty and like to pass on your news, write a letter and copy and paste it into e-mails, changing "Dear Granny" for "Dear Aunty" as relevant, or more if you have personal comments for people. Any sort of e-card or greeting can be quite a saving on paper cards and stamps. You could consider giving the money saved to a favourite charity. Do explain this in the letter, so those who miss having something on the mantelpiece will understand.

It would be nice to catch up more than annually, but the time and effort of writing to everyone can be too much. Instead form online groups - of relatives or friends - and e-mail them all at once. They can also e-mail the group in response, saving everybody time and sharing more news.

Online groups are particularly good for groups with a common interest - such as ex-school-mates, or a sports club, where everyone knows everyone else. Many online groups providers offer somewhere to share documents. So you could discuss details of the football club constitution, get feedback on your novel, or share jokes. Some allow you to put photos online, to share photos from a family wedding, college reunion, or the Christmas celebrations.

Before Christmas, you could put the family calendar online, so the children know when relatives are visiting, and can check the plans. You could even have a vote; on anything from what date to meet next, to whether you can face that annoying aunt on Christmas day.

You can find online group services at SmartGroups (www.smartgroups.com), YahooGroups (groups.yahoo.com) and Topica (www.Topica.com) although the later only does e-mail lists.

What about friends youíve lost contact with? You may not be able to trace them all, but Friends Reunited (www.friendsreunited.co.uk) can help you to catch up with friends from junior and secondary schools. Register your details on the site to see who else has registered. You can pay (£5) to be able to e-mail people listed. Organise a reunion, get in contact with old friends, or just be nosey about what people are up to!

Having several generations in the same house at once over Christmas can lead to stresses. TV can be a particular problem. Granny wants to see "The Sound of Music," but the teenagers canít possibly miss "I Know What You Screamed Last Friday 13th on Elm Street." Look at the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.org) to make an informed choice. Fighting over the remote control is, Iím afraid, still up to you.

Another way the internet can improve a family Christmas is as an argument solver. How often does Christmas afternoon pass in bickering over the name of the third one in A-HA, or who did the voices of the Flowerpot Men? Search engines such as Google (www.google.co.uk) can help you check. The internet butler can also attend to your information needs. When you just canít remember an annoying bit of trivia, Ask Jeeves (www.askjeeves.co.uk). I hope having Jeeves on hand improves your Christmas!

Written by Gill Smith as part of an ongoing series for Limited Edition, a Buckinghamshire based Lifestyle Magazine.
Reproduced with permission.