Author Archives: Laurian Clemence

How Google is helping me connect with family this year

In a normal year, my family would be planning for our 12-hour flight to South Africa, my home country, to see family for the holidays. But since we can’t do that this year, we’re trying to reimagine the usual gatherings and traditions—the same way we’ve already reimagined work, school, birthdays and other holidays.

I’ve been thinking back to how we coped with lockdown in March and April, and using that to figure out how to close out the year. Like every other family with small children, I am not entirely sure how I managed it—and let’s be honest, most of the time I relied on pure survival tactics. But I also developed a range of new hacks and skills, making use of a few practical Google products. As we prepare to do it all again, with shorter days and colder weather, these are some of the lessons I’ll take with me:

photo of a girl coloring while having a virtual video call with her grandma on a laptop

Storytime Hour with Granny comes with a free printout to color with each story.

Near or far, loved ones can be close

So many families are dispersed across the globe. I live in the UK, but I’m originally from South Africa, and my family still resides there. I haven’t ever experienced what it’s like to have parents living nearby, but somehow during lockdown the thing I needed most was to have my mum there to lend a hand with the kids or just pop in for a cup of tea. My children were not in school, and I was managing a large project at work. To add insult to injury, my kids also openly admitted that my storytelling was just not up to scratch during our daily school lessons, and that they’d prefer to “hear from Granny, because she does the funny voices.”


Necessity being the mother of invention, “Storytime Hour with Granny” was born. 


We began a tradition of setting up a Google Meet every afternoon, so she could read a story to her grandchildren for an hour. We set up the call in Google Calendar, where it was easy for her to simply click on the Meet link, and for one precious hour, my children were transported to another place, mesmerized by old storybooks. (And I transported myself to my home office for some less mesmerizing but blessedly uninterrupted focus time while listening to questionable music and sipping coffee that wasn’t cold, for a change.)

Two children roll out dough while watching an instructional video on YouTube

Sometimes you need to consult the biscuit instructors. Yes, that is a job. 

Create a class

As much as my kids loved the connection with their grandmother, they also needed to connect with their friends. My son is in his third year of primary school, so he’s not old enough to socialize virtually on his own. So I set up a weekly “class assembly” where he could connect with his peers, say hello and spend most of the hour pulling faces at each other. Using Google Meet on my laptop meant we could see all 30 kids and their parents joining from their homes. (Even if, at times, the camera was pointed towards the ceiling or only the top of a child’s head.) 


Each week we picked a different topic to talk about. When it was my turn, I hosted a banana bread-making class, where I asked the Google Assistant to pull up a simple recipe from YouTube that we could all follow easily. As a backup, the Google Assistant can quickly provide answers to questions such as “How many tablespoons is one cup?” (It was also helpful with the many other fundamental questions lockdown brings, such as “How many blues are there in the world?” and “What does a peregrine falcon sound like?” among others I needed reminding of, such as what day of the week it was.)

photo of a Next Hub Max displaying a photo of two children on swings

Besides all the helpful features, Nest Hub Max can display a seemingly infinite carousel of photos.

Share and display your photos 

As my parents live far away, this year I have decided to gift them a Nest Hub Max for Christmas. I know my mum will keep it in the kitchen, which means she can watch YouTube videos, stream Netflix content, listen to music and make video calls on Google Duo, all while she’s preparing meals or having tea. It also means my parents won’t need to set up their laptop for Storytime Hour anymore; they can just dial in straight from this nifty device. 


But the thing I’m most excited about is the Nest Hub Max’s photo frame feature. All grandparents love photos, but they seem to have taken on new significance in the absence of face-to-face visits—even the not-so-photogenic ones (and like many families who take photos on the fly, we have plenty of those action shots). And now my children won’t have to say, “Take a picture! Don’t forget to send it to Granny! Did you send it to Granny? You forgot, didn’t you?” Soon they’ll be able to automatically see and enjoy those moments in a shared photo album from Google Photos shown on the display, whether it’s that vacation we took to Croatia pre-lockdown, or a macro close-up of my daughter’s forehead. To enable this, all you need to do is set up the Nest Hub photo frame feature.
photo of two children in a bedroom crowding around and looking intently at a nightstand

“That’s a really great photo of your arm...or is that my arm?”

Help with bedtime

When the days slip into more days that feel exactly the same as all the other days, creating a set daily schedule—especially for bedtime—has been key to helping my children settle down. I set up a Routine using the Google Assistant on a Google Nest Mini in the kids’ room. As they’re getting into their pajamas and bouncing off the walls, I say the command that, frankly, Mary Poppins would’ve been grateful for: "Hey Google, bedtime." I’m given tomorrow’s weather forecast (informing us, almost always, that we’ll need to pack an umbrella) and any scheduled calendar events. It then sets an alarm for the morning and dims the lights, ready for story time. To help them nod off, it also plays relaxing sounds, turning the noise off automatically after an hour when they are hopefully sound asleep. This has really helped them adjust to their own rhythm at home, even if it doesn’t always go to plan—which, let’s be honest, is at least 50 percent of the time. But at least the chaos is accompanied by the lulling background noise of crashing waves.

The U.K.’s top nostalgic films: Access now on Pixel’s 5G

With so many countries now returning to various forms of lock down, and winter steadily drawing in, many of us are turning to our favorite films and movie moments to find some familiarity in a time of uncertainty. 

In other words, we’re embracing nostalgia.

And why not? The movies we love are usually steeped in happy memories, attached to dreamy locations or feature music that temporarily transports us out of the present moment. They bring us joy and a sense of change, breaking up some of the monotony of life in lock down.

We asked Dr. Wing Yee Cheung, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Winchester, about this, and learned that films are a great way to relive memories of happier times. “Movies are embedded with sensory memories of when we first watched them and whom we watched them with,” she writes. “Sensory inputs and social interactions aretwo key triggers of nostalgia. Watching these can be a way to walk down memory lane and reminisce [about] the way life used to be, what we used to do, and the people surrounding us.”

And because it’s the season of giving, we have our own gift for you: If you’re in the U.K., you can download classic films, such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" or "Monty Python’s Life of Brian," all from a unique Google Map, now until Dec. 10. Transport yourself to a world of nostalgia by searching the map for symbols that represent the films in relevant locations. If you find one, you’ll receive a code to rediscover and enjoy the movie in Google Play*1

Image showing Four Weddings and a Funeral on a Pixel phone.

Anyone in the U.K. can take part, regardless of what type of phone you have—but of course if you do happen to own a new Pixel 5G-enabled device, you’ll be able to start your viewing party in a matter of seconds1. Thanks to movies on-demand combined with the technology of 5G networks2, you can choose your film, download1 it and settle in on the couch, all while the popcorn is still warm. Currently, 5G2 is one of the fastest ways to download a movie on any device. Both Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a with 5G2 enable you to download a film in seconds1. Whether you’re curled up on your sofa, pottering around the house, or outside on a walk, Pixel with 5G2 gives you access to the stories and characters you know and love, on the go; the speed of a 5G2 device immediately transports you to where you want to be.

So let’s lean into the nostalgia. As Dr. Cheung notes, it actually helps us cope with uncertainty: “Immersing ourselves in nostalgic moments is not about hiding our heads in the past. On the contrary, it can create new memories which can feed into future nostalgic experiences.”

It’s a great way to spend lock down with your family: Watching much-loved classics is a natural way for parents to share their experiences with their children and to make new memories together. And even if you’re physically on your own, you can use Google Duo on Pixel 5 to share your screen and watch your favorites with socially distant family and friends3

“An old movie that makes us feel nostalgia can inject us with a complex range of emotions,” concludes Dr. Cheung. “We feel sentimental, predominantly happy, but with a tinge of longing.” And that’s something we can probably all relate to right now. 


*Offer begins on 25th November 25, 2020 and ends 10th December 10, 2020.  Limited number of codes available. Subject to availability. Terms Apply. See here for full terms. 

1.  Testing based on download speeds for content file sizes between 449MB and 749MB at off-peak times. Average download time was twenty seconds or less. Download speed depends upon many factors, such as file size, content provider and carrier network connection and capabilities. Testing conducted by Google on pre-production hardware in the UK in August 2020. Actual download speeds may be slower.  

2. Requires a 5G data plan (sold separately).  5G service and roaming not available on all carrier networks or in all areas and may vary by country. Contact carrier for details about current 5G network performance, compatibility, and availability. Phone connects to 5G networks but, 5G service, speed and performance depend on many factors including, but not limited to, carrier network capabilities, device configuration and capabilities, network traffic, location, signal strength and signal obstruction. Actual results may vary. Some features not available in all areas. Data rates may apply. See g.co/pixel/networkinfo for info.

3. Requires a Google Duo account. Screen sharing not available on group calls.  Requires Wi-Fi or 5G internet connection.Not available on all apps and content. Data rates may apply. 5G service, speed and performance depend on many factors including, but not limited to, carrier network capabilities, device configuration and capabilities, network traffic, location, signal strength, and signal obstruction.

*Promotional code offer is provided by Google Commerce Limited (Google) for use on Google  Play Store UK only, and subject to the following terms. Offer begins on 25th November 2020 and ends 10th December, 2020 (‘Offer Period’). One (1) promotional code per user per film release, and up to a maximum of five (5) promotional codes per User during the Offer Period. Limited number of codes available. Subject to availability.

Available only to Users 18 or older with a delivery and billing address in the United Kingdom. Users must have internet access and must have or add a form of payment at checkout . Promotional codes cannot be used with Guest checkout, Users must be signed-in to their Google account to redeem the code. 

Promotional codes can be redeemed by visiting play.google.com/redeem or the Google Play Store app and entering the 16 digit code to receive a £5 or £10 discount for purchase or rental of any product on the Google Play Store UK. The discount will be applied at checkout. Promotional code must be redeemed by 31st December, 2021 or it will expire. Promotional codes may only be used once and may not be used in conjunction with any other offer or promotion. Any unused promotional balance will be applied to the associated Google account. Users may continue to use the unused promotional balance for Google Play purchases until such balance is £0, or any remaining promotional balance expires. Promotional codes are a discount off price for up to the promotional amount, are for one-time use only, cannot be transferred to other users, are not reloadable, cannot be exchanged for cash. Google and its third party partners if applicable, are not liable for lost or stolen promotional codes, or for expired promotional codes that are not redeemed within the redemption period. Terms subject to applicable laws. Void where prohibited.