Connecting Families Through a Shared Reading Experience

One of my fondest childhood memories is that of weekend visits from my grandmother. She only lived 20 minutes away, but having her stay over for the entire weekend was an exceptional treat for my siblings and me. The best part? My sister and I would come into her room early in the morning with a stack of books. We’d get in bed with her and go through each one, relishing every sentence that would be indecipherable to most through her thick Hungarian accent.

Much earlier, before my sister was born and my mother was pregnant with me, my grandmother lived with us. As the story goes, she moved from Kansas City, showed up in San Francisco unannounced, and demanded that my father allow her to live with them. Being an immigrant Holocaust survivor who took no shit, there was no debate over her wishes. A move such as this sounds outlandish today, but it was not so long ago that having your grandparents live with the rest of the family was just what you did. Interestingly, since The Great Recession in 2007, multi-generational living has rebounded, with a record 65 million Americans participating. However, when drilling down into the numbers, this primarily comprises adult children living with their parents, otherwise known as “why do I need a job when I already have this sweet basement for free?”

So back to my grandmother. Not only did we love her visits or the weekends spent at her apartment, but I also called her on the phone. Constantly. If Readeo had been around back then, there is no doubt we would have been using that instead. Readeo is an online platform helping families stay connected by combining video chat with kid’s books. Alas, it would have been near-impossible to conceive of such, being that I was calling her via a rotary dial phone (look that one up, kids). However, it is easy to imagine this pandemic taking place forty-five years ago since another had already happened over 100 years back. What would we have done? Likely what many others did with their grandparents throughout 2020: protect them at all costs.

As a child, this would have been devastating — to spend a year away from my grandmother because her life was at risk. Readeo had already been around for quite a while, and the founder developed it for a more common logistical problem. He had to move his family across the country for work and desperately wanted his children to have an ongoing connection with their grandparents. Like myself, one of his kids’ favorite activities with their grandparents was reading, so he developed this platform that enabled them to do so virtually. Enter COVID stage left, and a niche product initially created to scratch the founder’s itch became a fundamental way to keep families connected during a period when in-person gatherings were too dangerous.

Rich media is challenging to compete against. Not many young children will opt for a book over a first-person shooter, YouTube video, or Netflix. As parents contended with complete overwhelm during the pandemic, this battle became even more heated with children out of school and their parents trying to work from home. Maybe the overall lack of technology during my childhood was a blessing. Perhaps dialing my grandmother on a rotary phone only happened because I didn’t have a Nintendo Switch under my bed. As parents, creating reasonable boundaries quickly becomes a murky business. To start with, these f’ing screens are everywhere. Some days I feel like it’s a game of Whack-a-Mole. My son will hack the time limit code for the iPad, and as soon as I catch him, he exploits my next moment of distraction by slipping downstairs to turn on Netflix. Then he sneaks over to my wife’s phone to fire up YouTube. Then he incessantly whines for the video game console until I either break down and relent or come unglued and make a threat to smash every screen in the house to pieces.

Parents can take many tactical and psychological approaches in this daily war of attrition, but relinquishing oneself to Luddite status often backfires. The changes in tech have undoubtedly outpaced our ability to respond culturally, including parents’ ability to get their arms around it all. Innovating out of the problem of innovation is one of my favorite Judo moves. The good ‘ol switcheroo. Do you want the entertainment tech? Well, first, you get the education tech, the connection tech, and creative tech. This is what I love about companies like Readeo.

In this episode, we discuss the importance of books in early childhood development, learn how Readeo is also helping teach refugees to read, and how the content game is evolving. Readeo’s CEO Aaron Neuenschwander also shares stories from his entrepreneurial journey and his own experience of being a new parent.

Elijah runs a LA/SLC creative agency focused on the good side of technology. He’s also a mediocre athlete, father, and entrepreneur.