Sunday, January 15, 2012

Skype: Technology for Old Folks

In 1989, theatergoers flocked to the cinema to watch Back to the Future Part II, the continuing saga of Marty McFly as he travels forward in time to save the world once again from an altered future caused by his self-created chaos. 

Midway through the movie, we find Marty at home as a middle aged man, dealing with a rebellious teen, nagging wife and overbearing boss who communicates in real time via a giant screen, leaving his slacking employee nowhere to hide. 

Of course, technology like that only happens in the movies, I thought at the time.  Talking on the phone and actually being able to see the person at the same time. 
Yeah right.

Fast forward 23 years.

A few months ago we rented the Back to the Future series for my 14-year old daughter Melissa.  While she thoroughly enjoyed watching a young Michal J. Fox traipse through time, she did not find the technology surprising at all.  Why, you ask?  I will tell you the answer in one word.


While the concept of carrying on a conversation with someone you can actually see is still quite strange to me, for Melissa, chatting live non-stop with her friends is a normal, everyday occurrence.   In fact, oftentimes there will be two, three, or even four teen girls and boys in little boxes on the computer screen.

I have tried, unsuccessfully, to connect with my friends and family on skype.  I cannot get used to seeing the person on the screen.  Even worse, I cannot get used to seeing myself in the little box in the corner.  Instead of focusing on my friend’s face, I find myself unwittingly focusing on my own.  Is my hair really that straggly?  Are my blemishes really that noticeable?  Do I really look that tired? 
Also, for reasons that befuddle poor Melissa, I mistakenly believe one needs to scream to be heard by the person appearing on the screen.   Not true, Melissa reassures me, but still, the few times I skype, I can’t help but unnaturally raise my voice five decibels.

So when Bob, Melissa, and I prepared to skype with my mother-in-law and assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins, beaming to us live from Raleigh, North Carolina, I knew that I would, again, scream at the screen.  However, I took comfort in watching my relatives also appear completely inept at this newfangled contraption.

“Can they hear us?” says my sister-in-law as a large group appeared crowded together in front of the computer.

“Yes mom, they can hear you,” says my niece in exasperation.

“We can hear you,” I scream.

“You don’t have to scream mom,” says Melissa, also in exasperation.

“I don’t think they can hear us,” says my sister-in-law……again.
“We can hear you!” I scream……..again.

“I can hear them but I don’t think they can hear us,” say my sister-in-law……again.

“Yes, yes, WE CAN HEAR YOU!” I scream……….again.

“I like your new hairdo,” yells my husband Bob to my sister-in-law.

“Guys, you don’t have to scream!” says Melissa………..again.

“What was that you said, something about doop de doo?” says my brother-in-law.

“I LIKE YOUR NEW HAIR DO,” yells Bob……….again.

“Can they hear us?” says my sister-in-law…..again.


I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to skype.  I shudder at the thought of people seeing me in my daily attire, worn out t-shirts and sweat pants.  So, I’ll leave skype for the next generation and I’ll continue to gab away on an old fashioned device where nobody can see you at your worst, that wonderful invention….the telephone!


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  1. Great! I don´t use Skype, but I love your story. It reminds me a little bit at my parents, when they use technology things ;)
    I leave my comment here - not on facebook!

  2. I have the same problem when I skype my family. I don't want my face to look down so I just keep looking at the camera. And I don't like the way the camera make me look. Sometimes they can't hear me then we have to type our conversation. My mother types really slow. I much rather calling than using skype. But it is also nice to see relatives when you are far away.

  3. I tried a much earlier technology for video chats with my folks several years ago, and the delayed sound combined with jerky motion capture made it seem like they were on the moon. Skype? I'm not ready for my screen debut, so voice-only calls will have to suffice.