Monday, March 20, 2006

Virtual visits

Yesterday's NYT SundayStyles provides us with another compelling research question: when the best interest of children is concerned, what is enough to make a successful "virtual visit" with a distant parent? In this article, opinions are exchanged as to the value of internet-enabled contact (including webcams, instant messaging, emailing, etc.) as a supplement to and/or substitute for F2F visits between children and divorced parents. (See InternetVisitation for more news, articles, definitions, and how-tos.) There's a definite legal angle to the article, with much discussion of custody agreements that include (or don't) allowances for virtual visits as counting for "real" visits.
As the legal system begins to acknowledge the potential benefits of technology in bridging the physical and emotional distance caused by divorce and separation, more families are experimenting with computer-assisted custody sharing.

Although any separating couple can opt for virtual visits in their custody agreement, debate surrounding the issue is unfolding on the state level as advocates push to have the option spelled out in state laws in order to broaden awareness of the practice and enable judges to grant such visits where they see fit.
Though most people in the article talk about the good things for parents who have already moved away - a webcam session is more satisfying than a phone call - there are also arguments made that allowing parents to visit their children virtually will encourage parents to move away, because it relieves them of the responsbility to be around.
"The danger is that it will become a substitute for real time," said David L. Levy, chief executive of the Children's Rights Council, based in Hyattsville, Md., which advocates for children affected by divorce and separation. "Virtual time is not real time. You can't virtually hug your child or walk your child to school. We don't want this to be seen as an excuse to encourage move-aways."

The Utah and Wisconsin regulations specify that virtual visits should be used as a supplement to, not a substitute for, traditional visits. The Wisconsin bill also specifies that virtual visits should not be used to justify a custodial parent's relocation. The laws define "electronic communication" as contact by video conference, e-mail, instant message, telephone or other wired or wireless technology.

"I think that most judges understand that children require physical one-on-one contact with the absent parent," said Cheryl Lynn Hepfer, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
Which raises the question: how closely can technology approximate "real time" contact, and how closely does it need to in order to provide the kind of interaction that young children need with their parents? This isn't so much linguistic in nature, but issues like nonverbal cues, technological aspects of online conversation - delayed response, for instance - would be important if you really wanted to figure this out.

Anyway, I just thought it was another interesting and important real-world issue that makes our interests relevant. This message brought to you by the Committee to Make Academics Matter (CMAM).

Monday, March 13, 2006

group hug.

so i've been reviewing abstracts for the upcoming internet research conference, and there's been a startling lack of papers not only on language use in general, but especially the type of social discourse approach that we usually take on this blog. it got me thinking about one of rae's last posts about possible conference collaboration. last year a few of us talked tentatively about getting a panel together at some point - any ideas on that? possible conferences, possible panel topics, possible research areas?

Friday, March 10, 2006

a tiny thread on synchronicity.

so i was sitting around this morning and writing on levels of synchronicity in forms of internet discourse, explaining how synchronous forms can act asynchronously on occasion and asynchronous forms can function synchronously on occasion and how the consideration of quasi-synchronous mediums is always there on the sidelines. and i thought, hell, maybe it would make things clearer if i referred to instant messages as prototypically synchronous, and email as prototypically asynchronous, for example, just to allow for all of those other differentiations in the terminology.

that's it, really. adopt my jargon now.

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