Reality Labs

How this family stayed connected through COVID — with technology

By Alexa Fischer
July 12, 2021

This story is part of TechConnect, a series about how Facebook’s tech innovations and investments help people build deeper connections and community.

Before we were married, my husband, J.J., and I both grew up in Rochester, New York, and we went to high school together. J.J. came out to California for the film industry — he’s a filmmaker by trade and runs a filmmaking community called Industry Jump — and we reconnected one summer when he came home to visit. We’ve been living together in California for seven years.

When COVID-19 hit, Portal was our lifeline. We’d be on video calls every night with a different family member, or sometimes all together at once. We had Passover Seders over Portal, and Thanksgiving dinners. Sometimes we call up our parents on Portal and just bring them over to the table to have dinner with us.

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Our daughter, Luna, has gotten to know her family over Portal, and it’s been amazing to see those connections form.

She just turned two, and we celebrated her birthday over Portal, opening presents so the people who gave gifts could be there, see her reactions, wish her a happy birthday, and sing to her.

The first time she saw her grandma in over a year, her grandma arrived late at night, while Luna was asleep. When Luna woke up in the morning, J.J.’s mom came out and said Luna’s name — and Luna looked toward the Portal at first. She didn’t know where the voice was coming from, and she was so used to hearing her from the Portal, so she looked at it to see if we were on a call. Then she saw her grandma in the hall, ran into her arms, and gave her a big hug.

Now, almost the whole extended family has a Portal, including Luna’s great-grandma. Our brother-in-law is from England, and his parents have a Portal — and that’s the way they’ve been able to stay in touch and see one another. Our entire family — even the folks who aren’t tech-savvy — have been able to watch Luna grow up from afar.

The fact that it’s hands-free has been a lifesaver, because we’re constantly chasing Luna everywhere, so we can’t hold a phone or computer usually. If we had to hold a device, we probably wouldn’t have spent nearly as much time with our families over the past two years.

There’ve been many dance parties through the Portal, where Luna will scold anyone who’s not participating on the other side of the screen. She wants them to be part of her thing. It’s like the Portal just becomes part of whatever you’re doing.

Story Time has been a lot of fun. Our nieces and nephews love Goldie and the Three Bears, and sometimes they’ll call just to have us read them stories. We also love Thank You, Omu!

It’s really cool to be together even when you’re apart. The different experiences that we’ve shared over Portal have been fun. It really is a portal, like a window to somebody else’s living room. Instead of a phone call, it’s a more personal experience to sit and feel like you’re sitting together.

We just bought a house back in Rochester. Honestly, the Portal and the time we spend on it were a big part of our decision to move back. Every night, we found ourselves wanting to be around our family and spend time with them, even if it was just virtually. We’re going to miss California a lot, but we’re really excited to be together with our families again and not have to just live life through the Portal, as wonderful as it’s been.

Still, we won’t stop using Portal anytime soon. In fact, I bought one for the family I’ve been nannying with for the past seven years. Now when we’re in New York, I can stay in touch with them just like we did with our family while we were here in California.