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Visual Networking: Bringing Families Together

Pundits often focus on the negative side of our ever growing fascination with technology. Arguments are made that technology is creating distance between families and enabling anti-social behavior among our children. This may be true, but a recent experience has me optimistic about the ability of video technologies to bridge physical and emotional distance and bring a family closer together.My wife and I are new parents. We waited a bit later than the normal couple to have children and this created a level of pent-up demand amongst our parents. In particular, my mom and dad had to wait 36 years for their first grandchild. This was especially hard as they watched all of their siblings become grandparents. Since the birth of my daughter, Ava 6 months ago we have seen my parents four times and my in-laws 3 times. Before the baby, we saw our parents at most 2 times per year. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how excited they were about the new addition to the family. It may also tell me something about how interesting they find my wife and I after 36 years.Since I got married we have rotated who we spend every holiday season with. This year it was my parents turn, but because they had visited us at Thanksgiving and were in the middle of a major remodel they stayed on the east coast and we on the west. I felt bad that we couldn’t travel to see them because at this age Ava changes on a weekly basis. As an example of this, I was just out of town for three days and by the time I got back my daughter had rolled over for the first time and was sticking her toes in her mouth. This may not seem like much to most people, but to a new father it meant that I missed a series of firsts. I really wanted my parents to be able to experience part of the holiday with Ava. The problem was that at her age she can’t talk, can’t write an email and a photo while being worth a thousand words lacks the nuance of live interaction. As I thought about this I receive a corporate-wide email announcing a program called”Home for the Holidays”. Apparently some charitable soul at Cisco sold senior management on the idea of allowing employees to use our Telepresence systems to reach out to our friends and families during the holidays. Cisco has over 100+ Telepresence facilities across the world and one of them happened to be near where my parents live in New Hampshire. I quickly set up the session and arranged for my parents to be let into the Cisco office in Boxborough. As the day approached I tried to explain to my parents what Telepresence was. They didn’t seem to get it and eventually I gave up and told them they would understand once they experienced it.The day after Christmas my wife, daughter and I entered my building on the Cisco campus in San Jose. At the same time my parents were getting situated in a room in Boxborough, MA 3,000 miles away. As the Telepresence system came to life I watched with amusement as the eyes lit up on every member of my family including my 6-month old daughter. We talked for almost an hour. We discussed how Xmas day went, what gifts Ava received, what we had for dinner and how we planned to spend the rest of our holidays. We put Ava on the desk facing my parents. They were able to make her smile by talking to her and making exaggerated facial expressions. They commented on how her eye color was changing, her hair was growing out and the little scratch on her nose she had given herself during her nap the day before. For a moment it felt like they were in the room with her. The only thing missing was the ability to hold her and change a dirty diaper. It was an emotional moment made possible by a revolution in the use of video to bridge distances that audio and text alone have been unable to do.In a discussion with a group of analysts the other day, they asked me if I thought visual networking experiences like Telepresence would ever be of interest to mainstream consumers. I said that I didn’t know but as our world becomes flatter and people are separated by greater distances, as the younger generation continues to develop different ways to communicate, the combination of social networking and digital video has the potential to make the world feel more personal than it has in a long time.Sign-up for Cisco’s new web series Digital Cribs.View Michael Kisch's profile on LinkedInTo learn more about visual networking go to: Wikipedia

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  1. I think visual networking is THE future for the 'connected' society. I have tried to find a section for Cisco's external relations or developers network for a submission relating to visual networking and a service concept I'd like to present to CISCO for their set top box business, do you know who I could contact?