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Column: Marco Polo

Published: Monday, Sept. 25, 2017 9:57 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 1:07 p.m. CDT

It’s 8 a.m. on a Thursday morning and the notification comes — dad is talking to you. I press play and there’s his adorable 74-year-old face, smiling at me and telling me he’s thinking about me, hopes I’ll have a great day and he loves me.

It’s almost impossible not to smile at a message like that, and it’s exactly the reason why I fell into yet another social media app trap. My dad started using Marco Polo, the “video walkie-talkie,” which is almost exactly what it sounds like — an app that allows you to exchange videos — a couple of months ago as a way to communicate with the guys in his morning faith group. Much like the Marco Polo tag game you make and send a video and then it’s the recipient’s job to reply back.

One of the unforeseen products of adding the app has been establishing regular communication with my older brother who lives in California. Fifteen years my senior and a vastly different lifestyle than my own, it hasn’t always been easy to connect with Jeb. Technology like iMessages and GIFs have helped, but Marco Polo has meant talking almost daily via video before his upcoming visit to Iowa.

While I’ve been able to share videos with him talking about Iowa football, a mutual passion, and showing him Newton attractions like the Valle Drive-In and Fred Maytag Bowl, he’s shown me the San Joaquin Hills of Aliso Viejo and more often than not the inside of his car, where Californians live at least part-time.

Meanwhile, he’s shared stories of Iowa City High School days and competing in the Cardinal Classic track meet where he always fell short of Newton’s great Trey Jackson. Other times he talks about stuff like his obsession with yoga and eating vegan.

While Jeb doesn’t seem to have any apprehension about staring into a screen and talking, it’s not my favorite. Sure, I can get down with a SnapChat video or a FaceTime with my kids, but these videos are reminiscent of the few short months I spent in a broadcast journalism class. I’m far more comfortable with the written word.

We’ve discovered Jeb has a propensity to say “anyway” while I’m stuck in an “um” pattern common among anyone who hasn’t belonged to Toastmasters Club. Jeb, by the way, has belonged to a Toastmasters Club and suggested I start dinging a bell every time I fall into an um or ahh. Pass.

It’s been a lot of fun exchanging stories and laughs with Jeb, and when we see each other soon, it won’t seem like I’m catching up with someone who lives clear across the country.

One of the great things about social media is connecting in meaningful ways with people you care about. I guess one more app doesn’t hurt when it means seeing your dad’s face in the morning and getting to know your big brother a little better.

Contact Abigail Pelzer at apelzer@newtondailynews.com

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