Saturday, November 15, 2008


After several unsuccessful attempts, a friend from the UK called me through Skype today. Skype is an Internet tool for talking without using the telephone. The communication can be visual as well, for one or both callers. In my case, I was able to see my friend, but I did not have a camera on my end, so my friend could not see me.

At first, it seemed I was in a science fiction film. I am that old. I remember "party lines," busy signals, and when you used a circular dial that rotated for each digit of the phone number! Homes had one telephone, of course--with a long cord. But now I could instantly see and hear someone thousands of miles away--and for no charge outside of my cable fees. The quality of the video was not excellent, but it was like having my own television connection one-on-one. We talked for about forty minutes. I had not seen this person in a year and a half. The last time was in Hungary, while I was speaking at a conference. At one point, the video broke up and it looked like horror film! But that was only for a moment...

What is the significance of this? Seeing someone live does add a dimension of the personal. The face is a marvelously expressive instrument. But I do not always want people to see me when I speak. Don't we like the invisibility of the old telephones in many cases? One would also need to be careful about who is allowed to "beam in" to your computer. There are kinkos out there, after all.

What is your technological exegesis of this new medium?


david said...

Some thoughts:

1. The receiving party should always confirm the video feed. Even if they don't have a camera, they should still be able to choose whether or not the caller is shown visually.

2. It would also be nice if they would limit the video to facial shots. Imagine how crazy this could get, if for instance a voice activated imaging system displayed pictures of what you were talking about. I have already heard of Google's plans to do this with the computer. A microphone is always on, and Google listens to your living room. It translates any words into potential "smart ads." So, you ask your wife about the laundry and Google shows you some advertisement for laundry detergent. Scary!

Quotidian Life said...

I thought it was kinda weird at first but then I'm a young baby boomer. I used if for the first time this fall, talking to our oldest child now in her first year at college in the US--we live overseas. It is nice to see her, see her dorm room, the leaves falling of the trees, etc. We don't have a webcam so she can't see us but we've been talking about getting one. Friends who have grandkids living far away tell me they adore this technology.

Jeremy said...


It sounds a bit like an Orwelian telescreen, and yes, scary.

Could you pass along where you heard about this technology. I'd like to check it out myself.

david said...


Here is the article:

Also recently Google released voice recognition software for iPhone. Actually finding that old article was hard because everyone is talking about this, so here you go:

My friend has an application for his iPhone called Shazam. You hold the phone up to your radio, and it will search the database for a match to the sound waves of that song. Its incredible that from a 15 second sample, the phone will return you the name of the artist and other information.