Reprinted with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor
Home for the holidays is a popular wish for many, though not always possible due to circumstances such as distance, work, weather and even war. Years ago the only way to bridge those distances was letter writing or expensive long-distance phone calls. Sentimental carols like “White Christmas” or my personal favorite, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” made the longing that much more poignant.
I always knew the holidays had arrived when I saw the commercial where the college boy arrives home to make coffee and surprise his family. Tears were guaranteed.
Now I’m assured an emotional meltdown by the recent commercial of ongoing conversations between a college girl and her widower father, via computer. What can I say — I’m an easy consumer target as soon as the first hall is decked.
Times they are a-changing.
The last two decades have seen a growth in technology that has changed the world and made the simple desire to be “home for the holidays” possible in spite of the miles. Cell phones, Internet service and social media have connected us on a global level. In 2003, three Estonian software developers released Skype, an application allowing proprietary voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP). Not only does the software allow instant messaging and voice calls, but with Web camera hardware on the computer or phone, callers can see their loved one on the other end in beautiful — sometimes blurry and possibly behind a second or two — living color.
Skype eventually garnered more than 600 million users and was bought by Microsoft in 2011 for 8.5 billion dollars. Several competitive applications have been developed since then, including Apple’s version, FaceTime. The customer need only download the free software and create an account, then add contacts to their list. If both parties use the video chat, they can talk face-to-face on computers or even smart phones. The bigger and better the screen, the closer the other person feels.
Besides enhancing long distance relationships everywhere, Skype has become an invaluable business and educational tool. Employers have used it to interview prospective hires without the expense of flying them in from elsewhere and, with multiple connections allowed, audio conferencing with far-flung participants is possible. It’s even been used to assist in language exchange for students around the world.
For those of us who dream of going to the cyber office in pajamas and bunny slippers, Skype meetings make that possible. Just put on a nice shirt, wipe the oatmeal from your chin and no one’s the wiser.
Professional tip: don’t stand up unless you’re positively disconnected.
Being far from those we love at the holidays can definitely be made easier with video calling. Imagine the joy of seeing your niece open her gift while you watch her reaction, or sharing a New Year’s kiss with your boyfriend while on separate coasts. Enjoy a little sibling competition by comparing the golden hues of your Thanksgiving turkey with your sister in Buffalo.
Personal tip: if you’re Skyping with grandma while wearing the hideous snowman sweater she sent that you have no intention of keeping, be sure to hide the price tag and horrified expression.
Yes, technology is a wonderful thing at the holidays, but it’s still not perfect.