Sunday, February 12, 2006

Virtual reality ... mixrs on flickr!

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your mom is?

If she’s anything like my husband’s wife she’s catching up with her friends on “flickr,” an online photo sharing Web site where folks can post photographs, join groups and generally pat each other on the back for the images they make of their cute kids, lovely landscapes and self-possessed cats.

Where my 1970s counterpart may have joined playgroups and mixed with other moms in the shade of the playground, it seems the moms of the new millennium are meeting online. It is a virtual recreational area where only the digital likenesses of our children mix and mingle.

With most real-life playgroups hosted during the workday, it’s really just simple logic that brings these parents together: Full-time employment, weekends filled with mundane chores and a large percentage of other would-be moms and dads operating under the same conditions. Until someone comes up with a group that meets after Ittybit’s bedtime (which is usually 8 but can stretch until 9 p.m.), on my couch in front of Soprano’s re-runs, I’m sticking with commiserating about constipation, skin rashes and tantrums with moms and dads from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Masterson, New Zealand.

I joined flickr initially so I could easily post photographs to a blog I had devised for the seven people who were interested in viewing the 4,329 pictures of Ittybit’s first two years. It took only 14 minutes for the flickr addiction to take hold.
After I uploaded my first six pictures — which took up the maximum size allotment available per month on a free account — “ro ber ta,” from Itu, Brazil, posted a note to a photograph of the 12-month-old Ittybit, in silhouette, toddling town the hall, dragging her baby doll behind her: “oowww my .. sooo beautiful!!” it read.

It was all down hill from there. Before I knew it, I’d purchased a “pro” account and was an uploading fool.


Through flickr I’ve made acquaintances, picked up contacts and even assigned some as “friends.” Before long, I had joined (and in some instances formed) virtual playgroups, where members can do everything from post pictures of their kidlets in action to participate in a virtual game of “snap.” In my favorite groups members play silly word games, offer critical reviews of photographs and even exalt the beauty of Canada Geese. I’ve been involved in online forums, participated in a hurricane fundraiser and even helped organize a photographic print exchange as a holiday offering to my virtual friends.

As my husband snores on the couch beside me, drained of all energy by the exploits of a toddler — the cherry atop a day of hard work — I tap away at the keyboard, checking recent activity on old photographs and uploading new ones.

At first, it was as much about escapism as it was about photography. It was a place where I never expected reality to touch.

But one day, as I was looking through recent uploads, an image jumped out at me. I clicked on it. It was a medical photograph of an aggressive lung cancer diagnosed that day. He was the fiancé of one of my contacts. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to do or say. I just followed his progress and prayed. On my daughter’s birthday, I learned, he died.

When another woman on my contact list, who is in her late 20s, was diagnosed with skin cancer she decided to let her virtual friends into her real-life drama. I suppose I did what any of her real friends would do: I sent her a care package.

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