I was 21 the year my sister, who’d been in Australia for four years prior, married and moved there for good. For over thirty years, we’ve lived in different countries, continents and hemispheres, not to mention time zones, which can be the hardest part somehow.
If you want to know more about this, you can read here, but for this exercise, just know that, depending on our respective countries' daylight savings schedules, we are fourteen, fifteen or sixteen hours behind her. For most of her life there, finagling around time zones has made for challenges in scheduling phone calls. A good hour for her to “ring up,” in her lingo, would be when I was dressing for work, so I’d hop around holding the phone while trying to button a blouse one-handed. There have been more than a few birthdays (hers) where I’ve set my alarm for 5:30 a.m.to make sure to call her before she went to bed.
What was worse is that when she first moved to “Oz” for good, the telephone communication we could coordinate, occurred accompanied by loud static and echoes. We stumbled over each other’s words and usually hung up unsatisfied. In the 90’s, email allowed for more consistent and understandable contact; for years that was our best bet. But then, here in the US, we moved to broadband, and she struggled with unresponsive dial-up service, which made emailing hard for her.
Finally though, my rural-living sister was able to sign up for broadband a few months back. As a result, something wonderful has occurred. We speak face-to-face now, via Skype, which, I’m sure most of you know about, but for those who may be slightly, er, antiquated like me, is a video conferencing product that works over the Internet.
Now, to be clear, I'm not all that behind the times. Video conferencing was a regular event where I used to work and I became accustomed to conducting long-distance employment interviews via a computer monitor. But doing so required scheduling and testing with the support of a lurking help-desk associate, who would stand by to assist on the regular occasions when the screen went black.
Skype is something different altogether. As long as you've got a camera in your computer (and if you don't, I think you can buy one for under $50) download Skype (easy-peasy), make a user name, and request to friend other users. Once your request is accepted, you can contact each other. That whole process took me about five minutes and later that day, I conducted a test call with another sister who lives over an hour away, then a brother, who is only slightly closer. The next day, I had my first video conference with Australia.
Since then, Aussie sister and I have video conferenced a few times. Each time my computer emits that unique blurt that indicates she’s trying to contact me, I jump around unsure of what button to push. Eventually though, we connect and there she is, on the screen, in front of me so clearly that I can see the French press on the counter behind her. For the first time in over thirty years, I can see her face real time, and other then the monthly price of my Internet connection, the whole thing is free.
To someone who remembers when rotary phones were the norm and phone numbers started with tree names (mine was Cedar-7), the fact that with about three clicks I can see my sister’s face even though she is so many thousands of miles away, makes me feel like I am living Star Trek. Yesterday, she rolled out of bed, made herself a cup of coffee and Skyped me, and I chatted away to her while preparing roasted chicken thighs and brown rice for dinner. We talked for an hour as if we were sitting next to each other and would have gone on, if the timer for my broccoli didn’t bing. Back in my childhood, I remember watching Captain James T. Kirk talk to a computer screen, and thinking it was like magic. Now I do it myself.
I am of a mind that anything that can be imagined can be created. So, I’m looking forward to the next phase of communication. I hope that it will be one that also appeared on Start Trek. In the series, characters visited a “holodeck” and participated in "holograms" where, via computer simulation, they interacted with robotically generated, touch and feel real people, in an unreal dimension.
I’m thinking that by entering a holodeck, I could not only see my sister, I could hug her too.