Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to long distance

Ever experienced frustration at your parents' technological ineptitude? Raise your hand.

If you're under the age of thirty, you probably have your hand up right now (at least in spirit). I mean, how hard is it to navigate multiple windows, set the date on a digital camera, or operate a DVD player, right? While it's true that Generations X, Y, and Z grew up technologically inundated, whereas the Baby Boomers did not, the conundrum (from this humble blogger's perspective) is more complicated than just that.

As we grow older, we start to resist change. Teens and tweens everywhere are raging at the cutting edge of technology. But my late-twenties brother barely uses Facebook, refuses to use Windows Live Messenger (his Internet chatting died with ICQ), and makes sure that his Windows XP looks comfortably like Windows 98. Windows 98!??

I myself am not immune to this process. I have been a late adopter of many technological trends and innovations. It is, as they say, hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and one day my future children may also be shaking their heads in shame. That's why three years after the launch of Skype and ten years after the debut of the wireless technology known as Bluetooth, I have just recently come to recognize their magnificence.

Skype utilizes a form of technology known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) to give splendidly crisp, ideally telephone-quality, audio over the Internet - for free. Wireless Bluetooth headsets, used heavily with mobile phones, allow for convenient conversation sans wires or bulky handset. What advantages do these technologies have over something like, say, voice chat on Windows Live?

Well, for starters, while Skype offers free PC-to-PC calling, it can also be used to ring up standard telephones. I recently purchased a 3-month unlimited calling plan to the US and Canada for the quite reasonable price of $9.28 CDN. Skype also reads all the contacts off of my Microsoft Outlook address book, making it easy to call anyone from Skype with the click of a button.

The challenge, however, is that using Skype essentially tied me to my computer. Whether using a headset or webcam microphone, it was difficult for me to step more than two feet away from the computer (either because I would run out of cord or I was too far to be heard). This is where Bluetooth came in. My relatively new ASUS M51Sn laptop came with Bluetooth compatibility, which allowed me to pair my Bluetooth headset for use with the PC! This freed me up to walk, sit, or lie anywhere in the room or into the hall while maintaining my conversation over Skype.

The icing on the cake however, were Skype's versatile settings with regard to speakers. Where Windows Live (which is primarily a text messenger and secondarily a voice messenger) only accepts one speaker input (voice and sound come out of the same device), Skype (which is primarily a voice messenger and secondarily a text messenger) allows you to configure your voice and sound speakers separately. This means I can have sound coming from my conversation coming out of my Bluetooth headset but have music I'm playing on my PC come out of my desktop speakers. Outstanding!

Needless to say, Skype and Bluetooth working in tandem have made quite the impression on me as the latest technological marvel in my life. They've made keeping in touch with Evey much more manageable and have actually provided greater comfort and flexibility than holding a bulky handset between my head and shoulder all the time. If you've been burning through calling cards phoning up loved ones in Kingston, Calgary, or Vancouver, I'd recommend making the switch.


sandlot said...

i'd love to. but my parents won't know how to use it. it's already hard enough getting them to webcam with me over msn.

"can you see me now? can you see me now?"


a_ndy said...

That's why you can get a plan where you can call landlines. It's still cheaper than an actual long-distance plan or calling cards, I think.