Friday, July 8, 2011

We have Skyped, and it didn't hurt a bit

I don't like talking on the telephone; it takes a lot of energy and doesn't give enough back. That's probably because I like to take in information through my eyes, not my ears.

At ages three and four, our grandkids will talk by phone for a little while, until suddenly they are gone and you find yourself talking with their mom, who is laughing at how abruptly they were distracted by something shiny.

All that was before Skype.

With the kids planning a three-week trip to Montana, we decided to join the Skype generation. Our computers have no working built-in cameras, so we bought a $30 combination camera-microphone at Target, installed the software that runs it, and downloaded the free version of Skype.

Our first couple of conversations were notable for their awkwardness.

Them: "Hello, are you there? We can't see you."

Us: "Hello, we see you but now we can't hear you."

Them: Mouths moving.

Us: "We're going to hang up and call again."

Once we re-established the connection, we could see and hear one another. But our camera periodically wandered so only one of us was visible. Easily fixed; I had set it to "follow my head," which does not work when two heads are involved. Occasionally our sound cut out...I would recommend not buying the cheapest equipment if you are going to use it often. The software controlling the camera and microphone popped up on our screen periodically, and Peter would frantically search for the right command while the rest of us kept a running commentary. "We can't see you any more!" "What did you do?" "Get the picture back!" "Hurry!"

As with any electronic equipment, once you get familiar with it, the technical aspects become almost invisible. The computers at each end of the conversation link up, happy people bound into view, and everyone starts talking.

We had extended, animated conversations about their trip - playing with their cousins, going to Yellowstone, visiting a museum. We saw ViMae's new gold sparkly shoes, admired whatever they were wearing, and laughed at their jokes. Augie has begun making up jokes of his own. Q: Why did the hippopotamus go to the watering hole? A: Because it was in Africa! Hahahahaha.

On their Daddy's birthday, we held up cards we had made. Peter went traditional, using stickers, stampers, markers, and crayons. I used virtual markers and paint, via a drawing program on my iPad.

Eventually the conversation dwindles, and it's time to say goodbye. The children lean in and kiss our images on the computer screen. I kiss the camera lens, and then make a funny face. The last thing we hear is Mommy saying, "Augie, you can turn it off now, Just click h...." Click.

And for the next couple of hours, we walk around with big smiles on our faces. I still don't like telephones, but I love Skype.


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