From Dr. Jane's Notebook

Beam me up, Scotty... or Skype me!

Our world has become so technologically savvy that it often makes my head spin. As a baby boomer at the University of Miami in the 1970s, I and most of my peers read Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock in which he predicted that someday, each of us would have a computer on our desk! At that point in time, long before microcomputers were invented, the only computers that I knew of occupied whole buildings. Over the course of my lifetime, computers have become tiny, user friendly, and through programs such as Skype (a mostly-free service which provides video-telephone calls), computers are beginning to revolutionize personal communications. Here are few more thoughts on the matter.  

·        Now it is possible to visit your family whenever you want.  For years, those of us who live at long distances from friends and family have been burning up the telephone wires in the effort to stay in touch. While telephones are great for oral communication, they have previously lacked that visual component. Now it is possible to not only have conversations, but also to look each other in the eye. So when I call my adult children in London, I can see their faces, their apartment, and I can introduce them to our new puppy at no cost. This binds our family and makes the distance more tolerable.

·        Videophone calls extend health services to the homebound.  I recently became certified as a Distance Credentialed Counselor which allows me to offer mental health services to those who live at great distances, lack transportation, or who are otherwise unable to come in to my office. The ability to literally see people at any moment in time offers endless possibilities for the homebound. Not long ago, when my Father was hospitalized for a couple of weeks and my Mother was unable to visit him in person, she was able to see him and speak to him from her kitchen table while he lay in his hospital bed. Needless to say, this capability offered great reassurance to both of them who were equally worried about each other.

·        Grandparenting at a distance. Several of my friends describe great joy at seeing their grandbabies up close when they actually live far away. New grandparents are often frustrated and inconsolable when they can’t get enough time with their grandchildren. It is difficult, if not impossible, to carry on a conversation with a child who has a limited vocabulary and who can’t see who they are speaking to. One grandmother who lives halfway around the world from her grandchild has bridged that gap by scheduling a story hour every weekend. At the appointed hour every Saturday afternoon, she and her grandchild have a date to spend time together on Skype. By reading story books, they can enjoy a shared experience, see and hear each other, and spend very special time on a regular basis.

·        Videoconferencing: not just for business anymore. Through the use of Skype, it is possible for adult children to literally look in on parents in nursing homes as often as they’d like, be introduced to their child’s significant other without making a long trip, and maintain a  whole new level of connection. In the long-ago past, communication through the mail provided us with the written word but lacked a voice or visual images. Eventually long-distance communication by phone provided a voice to listen to but did not allow us to see. Now without leaving our homes, it is possible to hear someone’s voice, see their expression, and all but reach out and touch.  

One of my favorite Skype stories is a tale about brothers. A young man moved from New York to Miami where he had previously resided with his parents and eleven year old twin brothers. Not long after he moved, the young man received a call from his little brothers who found themselves unexpectedly alone at home. Realizing that his younger siblings were becoming increasingly anxious about their predicament, he suggested that they turn on Skype, grab a snack, select their favorite board game to play, and that he would babysit for them until their parents arrived home.  While I am not recommending online babysitting, clever thinking in this case certainly helped these kids cope with the unexpected. Just imagine the many possibilities!

©Copyright, 2010, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

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