We live in Northern California and our nine-year-old granddaughter lives in Southern Florida. Now that’s a considerable distance to bridge. We so much want to stay in touch with her and be a part of her life as she grows. In previous columns we’ve shared some of the ways we’ve done this in the past: recording ourselves reading stories to her and sending them to her with the book enclosed; sending her a letter, a note, a funny article, silly pictures we found in magazines and so on.
In the last few years we’ve been swept up in the digital photography craze and have learned some basic skills in how to take usable photos-often of ourselves doing the activities we love like bicycling (we have recumbent bikes which are so much fun!) And we’ve learned how to email them to her in a file format that would email quickly and not clog up her email account. She got a simple digital camera for one birthday and has been taking her own pictures and sending them to us, too.
Our latest coup may sound like real high tech—and might seem daunting at first, but we found it to be very simple and easy to set up. A close friend introduced us to an internet phone service called “Skype”. It’s a free download, and that’s an attractive price. We went on to www.skype.com and downloaded their software (you simply click on the download button) and installed it on our computers. Since almost every computer was supplied with a microphone and set of speakers, we already had all the hardware we needed. I asked my daughter to install the same software on her machine and on our granddaughter’s too.
There’s a couple of steps that it takes to set up a free Skype account. We gave ourselves a ‘screen name’ (and we learned not to use our own real names because you can lose privacy quickly that way.) We filled out the form that limited our Skype calls to people on our ‘friends’ list-to prevent casual strangers from calling us on the service. Then we entered our daughter’s and granddaughter’s email addresses into the next form and the service automatically emailed them an invitation’ to add us to their friends list. And, just like that, we were ‘connected’, at least potentially.
We began ‘skyping’ each other regularly, often almost every night just before her bedtime. She is a budding techie and really has loved this freedom to call without cost, too. There are other VOIP services (that’s the technical name for what Skype is doing) but we haven’t had the opportunity or need to test any of them.
We have saved the best for last: recently Skype added video capability. We went down to the computer store and purchased three very inexpensive webcams and mailed two to our daughter and found it extremely simple to connect the camera to our computer. There were a few ‘glitches’ as we made our first video call and it took about an hour and three tries until we were suddenly on video, across the entire continent, with our granddaughter! Now she LOVES to call us and show us her latest drawings, wave at us, make funny faces and tell us jokes. It really does feel like she’s in the room with us.
We must admit that the video quality is a bit like an old time movie with slow frame rate and ‘jerkiness’ but it’s more than adequate to provide that essential part of conversation which is seeing the reaction on the face of the other person as you’re talking.
HANOCH and MELADEE McCARTY
Originally published on GRAND in July-August 2006 issue