Zoomsgiving: 5 tech tips for getting through the remote holiday

“We will Zoom and chat and cook together,” said Price, who will be joined in person by her two sons. “Like we would if we were together.”

Virtual Thanksgiving celebrations — or, as it has now been dubbed, “Zoomsgiving” — have become necessary this year to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked people to avoid travel during the Thanksgiving holiday, as cases continue to spike across the country. Though people still packed airports this past weekend, many more are choosing to stay home with members of their own household and only visit with other family and friends over a screen.

Even though we have all gotten more familiar with video chatting during 2020, the logistics of devouring a Thanksgiving feast while simultaneously catching up with Cousin Harold can still be challenging.

So, dear readers, let us present you with a comprehensive guide on how to have the most enjoyable Zoomsgiving you can.

Set up the video before the turkey’s done

First, ensure you have a strong home WiFi connection and won’t get cut off right when the best wine-spitting joke is reaching its punchline. You can run a couple speed tests and even try a practice video call to make sure everything is running smoothly.

A dry run can be especially useful for family members who aren’t as familiar with Zoom or video chatting in general, like grandparents. In San Clemente, Calif., Karen Lee Karavatos and her mom set up their own Zoom call a couple days before Thanksgiving to make sure everything was running smoothly.

Zoom is suspending its usual 40-minute time limit on calls for nonpaying customers the entire day, meaning you can chat with your family just as long as you want on the service. But Zoom isn’t the only option.

If you have family members who are already familiar with something else, it might be easier to go with the flow than teach them how to use a new app. Google Meet, Apple’s FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Microsoft Skype or really any other service you prefer can make a successful call as well. Just let everyone know what you’ll use ahead of time so they can install it.

Flex your tech support muscles

For many families with grown children, the holidays are also typically a time for parents to load up on free in-person tech support. The usual upgrading of operating systems and deleting of malware will have to wait this year. Instead of trying to talk someone through updating or fixing their own tech setup over the phone, consider this a push to outsource the task to a professional, such as a local computer store or Best Buy’s Geek Squad. It could be beneficial to your relationships.

If you still want to help out from far away, find a way to control your parents’ or grandparents’ systems remotely. It might mean downloading the app for any smart home devices they have, or using a tool like Chrome Remote Desktop. Set up their computers and smartphones to auto-update as much as possible, and give a little guidance on how to avoid the rash of email, phone and text scams that target older people.

Do more than just stare at each other

Once the small talk is out of the way, you might be wondering, “Now what?” Thankfully, months (and months) of social distancing have led to more ways to bond over the Internet. You can watch movies together, apart, with tools such as Amazon Prime Watch Party, the Teleparty browser extension, or just by sharing a screen playing the movie of your choice on Zoom.

For more competitive fun, try playing games. You can play classics such as Pictionary, charades or Scattergories the old-fashioned way. There are also a host of online games that have sprung up for video conference play, along with tools such as Houseparty and Jackbox Games.

Avoid awkward chewing noises and political disagreements

Karavatos and her family decided to forgo eating the big meal all together, a task that just seemed a bit too ripe for awkward moments and clinking dishes. Instead, she and about 30 members of her extended family — most who live too far away to gather in person anyway — will gather over Zoom before the meal for a toast.

“It’s hard to talk with your mouth full,” she said.

If you do want to share the meal with family, keep the mute button in mind. A quick tap can save your virtual guests from hearing every chew and clink as you eat. And if your family gatherings tend to devolve into heated political arguments, video chats mean you can just lower the volume when you’re done listening, or mute yourself before you say something you’ll regret.

Keep other good video habits in mind: Make sure the lighting in the room makes it easy for others to see you, and position your camera so it frames your quarantine beard or table as nicely as possible.

Make it fun for kids

Okay, as nice as it is to be able to see family and friends one way or another, the lack of physical interaction can get a bit … boring. Especially for the younger crew. Luckily, various video chats have many ways to keep kiddos engaged. Check out artificial reality filters on FaceTime, Facebook Messenger or using the Snap Camera app, and let kids play with bunny ears or robot heads. Consider making a virtual kids table where they have their own group chat.

To facilitate intergenerational bonding, consider oral history project StoryCorps. It has created technology to record a conversation between younger and older family members, even when they’re apart, and expects thousands to use it during its Great Thanksgiving Listen push. The nonprofit encourages people to record conversations as both a way to get to know each other better and as a way to keep memories alive. All recordings are archived at the Library of Congress.

“It’s a way to have a moment of connection with a loved one while being socially distant,” founder Dave Isay said. His StoryCorps team has suggested questions online, with lots of tech support available.

Happy Thanks-Zooming!

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