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Santa Claus connects with kids electronically

MIAMI — Yes, Virginia, there is an @SantaClaus.

Santa has always been a master at toy making, but he has now become quite the gadget guru. He's responding to boys and girls through text messages, tweets, e-mails and is even doing some video conferencing live from the North Pole.

"The reality is that times change, people change, so does the North Pole," said Scott Steinberg, publisher of DigitalTrends.com.

"Kids see parents on their BlackBerries. Kids see parents texting in the middle of church," said Steinberg, who also has a daughter growing up with a digitally connected Santa.

"It's not a stretch for them to think that Santa's got a BlackBerry or a netbook in his sleigh."

Over the years, Santa's had to keep up with the technology children use. For decades the North American Aerospace Defense Command has tracked Santa on Christmas Eve via radar. Fifteen years ago, old St. Nick was firing up the modem and popping up in AOL chat rooms for kids, and parents were starting to get in touch with him through e-mail.

But now, it's all about mobile communication. You can text your wish list to Santa, send holiday greetings on Twitter or add him as a friend on Facebook to send him a virtual plate of cookies with milk. On top of Norad's radar blip, children now can get updates of his location by using a mobile version of Google Maps.

Paola Balc, a 5-year-old from Coral Gables, Fla., has been sending her wish list to Santa by e-mail every year using the eSanta on her dad's computer.

After she writes the letter, with her dad by her side, she hits send and her screen turns into a countdown as the letter is transmitted to Santa's Workshop with digital hums, whizzes and crackles — much like the sounds of a dial-up Internet connection. It gives her a receipt to print out for her records, and within seconds Santa writes a reply — which her father said was very similar to last year's message.

This year she also sent a wish list to Santa on her iPhone — yes, her iPhone — using a wish list application. She had forgotten to include a few things in the first letter, such as gifts her cousins would like.

"She said, 'I didn't know I could use the iPhone to send letters to Santa,' " said her dad, Enzo Balc. "And I was worried she was going to start sending letters to Santa every day."

Google Maps and Google Earth will be displaying his journey through the night on noradsanta.org. Families can download a mobile version by visiting m.noradsanta.org and track him on their phone's Web browser. And then there's the Twitter account @noradsanta.

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