So here I am trying to replicate the sound Skype uses to alert you to an incoming call with my mouth and sounding like a high-pitched turkey. You know Skype? Yes, no? Either way you should do because it’s a superb way to keep in touch with your friends and loved ones scattered around the world. It’s essentially a free video telephone. If I'm preaching to the converted please forgive me but it amazes me how many people still don;t know about or use Skype.
If you’re unfamiliar with it let me introduce you. It’s very simple, you look up Skype online, then click and download the application on your computer and you have free worldwide video messaging to anyone else who has Skype. There are no charges. They must make their money from their accompanying cheap phone lines they also offer. All you need is a computer with an inbuilt web-cam or you have to buy a basic one to plug in, and you’re away.
When Skype rings it sounds like the digital turkey on helium I was just trying to replicate with my mouth, presumably this is to make it stand out from the usual array of ringtones that fade into our digital backgrounds. However my verbal impression is just making my colleagues look at me strangely.
There’s a digital directory to the left of your screen that tells you which of your friends is online and, as with phone numbers, you simply build up your own collection of friends on Skype.
When Skype calls you open your app, click on the video logo and wow there’s my dad in his kitchen in Italy, my son up the road at his mum’s house, and my friend showing me the swimming pool from his balcony in his hotel in Miami. Sometimes it freezes but so long as your internet connection is good you can get a guided tour of wherever your friends and family actually are.
As an invention it really does move communication forward. Like emails, texting and Twitter have. When I was on the edge of the Himalaya last Autumn, the sort of back packing outpost that has driven forward the use of things like Facebook and Skype, I was amazed to find out that internet cafés let you use their computers to skype with-in the basic cost structure of hourly rental use.
If, like me, you grew up hanging round in phone boxes pushing 2p and 10ps into difficult slots, whilst writing LUFC on the phone books, it beggars belief that it costs roughly the same to video call from India to London for 30 minutes as it did to just call a girlfriend a mile away for two.
And the effect of actually being able to see my little boy each day was totally uplifting. Especially when I’d been trekking so high and the temperature was so low I was using knee supports at night as extra socks. Ok so I’ve then got the issue of keeping his attention and stopping him from messing around on his mum’s computer solarising himself and sending weird background images my way but the feeling of seeing him laugh and smile and healthy rather than just listen to him on the phone was significant.
As we get older and our families spread out there’s really no excuse not to see each other any more. Even though I already refer to Skype as a verb, ‘to Skype’, as in ‘to Hoover’, it’s not long since we were still in the age of the licked stamp and envelope.
I can distinctly remember the first time I ever heard about the internet. It was at the world’s biggest music gig Rock In Rio, Brazil, 1991 and I was interviewing the New York pop group Deee-lite, led by Lady Miss Kier in her harlequined cat suit. The night before one of the trio had fallen off the front of the 25 foot stage whilst video-ing the 120,000 strong crowd and was still in hospital . So although the group were well known for their interest in new technology, their apparent lack of understanding of gravity gave me cause to be skeptical.
“So, what you’re telling me,” I asked them, “is that pretty soon someone on the top of a mountain in Africa with a computer will be able to write to someone in New York and get an instant reply?” Miss Kier and her chap nodded, delighted I’d understood. I’m not sure whether they read my article where my next line probably said something like “They are clearly mental.”
But they were of course right. I can think of no better reason to be cheerful than to be able to see your loved-ones when you are far away from each other. Long gone are the days when we needed to keep photos in our wallets, although I do still have them there. It’s 2012 and we have the free face to face video telephoning that all science fiction programmes had thirty years ago. It’s only a matter of time before we are driving hover-cars. I am already wearing a baco-foil suit in preparation. Now excuse me whilst I go outside and feed my electric sheep.