A group of five or six girls sitting around, talking, laughing to the point of tears.

The scene could be anyone, anywhere, and it has repeated itself countless times over the years: on a bunk bed at Greene Family Camp, around the campfire under the stars, in dorm rooms, and now, a few years after college, in front of our computers in a Google “Hangout,” Google’s multi-person video chat.

Hanging Out Around the Virtual Campfire

Elena Dufner, bottom center, chats with her camp friends on Google Hangout.

These are my camp friends. We are in our mid-20s, scattered across the country, pursuing ambitious careers across every sector, and tackling young adulthood on our separate paths. We still have some common bonds – our many years of URJ youth programs, and the convenience of technology that connects us across thousands of miles, busy schedules, and increasingly divergent lives.

My friends and I keep in touch fairly regularly across a variety of platforms – email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, phone calls, even visits if we’re lucky. This past summer, we began using Google’s Hangout feature to host group video chat sessions so we could all see each other.

The conversations themselves are a great time. Who doesn’t love catching up with old friends? But more significantly, the intentional act of making time to get online with friends is having a real impact on our presence in each other’s lives. These friendships that I cherish are becoming stronger. We are doing a better job of keeping up with each other in the interim. Our occasional Google Hangouts have led to increased points of contact in our little group.

A few weeks ago in a Hangout, we were rehashing some old camp memories and the conversation centered on the first emails we ever wrote to each other. One friend noted, “Camp is the reason I got an email address. Someone asked me for mine and I said, “Uh, here’s my mom’s?” because I was 11 and didn’t have one. The first thing I did when I got home was ask to set up an email account so I could write to all my friends.”

Of course, our parents will roll their eyes and say, “We used to write letters” and our own campers will read this, roll their eyes, and say, “We just friend everyone on Facebook.” Yes, the ways we keep in touch have changed. Let our answer be something better, more interactive, and more fun than anonymous Facebook “stalking.”

Hanging Out Around the Virtual Campfire At the end of the summer, and years down the road, what is most remarkable is not the technology itself, but its ability to deliver something so powerful and tangible over an invisible WiFi connection. It’s been years since we were at camp together, but thanks to web cams, my camp friends and I are still able to sit around laughing together, connecting. Our Google Hangouts are not physical places that we can ever be in, nor will they be an acceptable lifelong substitute for in-person reunions. For now, though, when we can’t always get to camp, and we can’t always get to each other, the laughter, the smiles, the absolute fullness and contentment I feel being in those conversations – this is the next best thing to being around the campfire.