The FaceTime Babysitter

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One recent Saturday afternoon, when Rafi Fletcher was home alone with her nearly 1-year-old son, the Minneapolis mom wanted to get some work done on her women’s clothing start-up, Tibby & Finn.

So she called up her sister and asked if she wouldn’t mind watching, and playing with, her nephew for a little bit. Ms. Fletcher’s sister, who lives in San Francisco, happily obliged, and spent the next 30 minutes playing peek-a-boo, singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and dancing with her nephew — all via FaceTime. Ms. Fletcher worked, while her son sat nearby on the couch interacting with his aunt via an iPad.

FaceTime is “the secret weapon” that allows relatives or friends to “virtually babysit and entertain the baby while you get things done in the same room,” Ms. Fletcher wrote on her blog back in September.

It turns out that Ms. Fletcher’s sister is far from the only virtual babysitter out there. In a world where many people live far from their relatives, clever parents of young children have long embraced video call helpers to get more things done around the house.

Let’s be clear. Parents, at least most of them, aren’t leaving their children home alone with virtual babysitters. Rather, they’re enlisting family and friends to watch the little ones via video for short periods of time, so they can be more productive around the house, focus on a task like cooking dinner or run out of the room for a few minutes. In other words, for those of us who don’t have relatives living close by who can be called upon for last-minute help, technology is a great fill-in.

The Traditional Mystics Going Online

Marabout1 on Skype

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West Africa’s marabouts, or spiritual guides, have advised their followers for centuries. And far from being at odds with the modern world, they are adapting and thriving in the 21st Century, says Jane Labous.

…All the best marabouts are on Skype these days, and Cherif is no exception. Via Skype from our current home in Dorset on the south coast of the UK, my husband and I call Cherif every week for updates on our fertility treatment. The morning post brings envelopes plastered with pink and green Senegalese stamps containing gris-gris and miniscule notes elegantly encrypted with Arabic prayers. My husband spends hours boiling them in water with ginger and honey according to the handwritten instructions.

My mother-in-law is, as you would expect, on the case. She rings with news of a fertility marabout advertising on Senegal TV, and we call the hotline from the UK. A crackling voice at the other end informs us in French that the minimum fee would be two million CFA – more than £2,000 ($2,950). Now that marabouts are marketing themselves, it seems prices are rising.