Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A year or two ago my friend Jen awakened at 1:00 in the morning to the sound of voices. Her boyfriend, Andrew, was alone in another room talking in clear, conversational tones. An accented voice was answering back.
That was one of the first times anyone I knew used Skype. The other voice, that of “Dr. J,” belongs to a physician and a columnist at the magazine where Andrew and I both work, and Andrew was asking him about an injury in the middle of the night because Dr. J lives in Australia.
Over the recent holidays, seemed almost anyone I knew with family out of town Skyped. At a dinner on Christmas evening, one friend whose daughter had remained at college walked around the room holding a gleaming white computer open in her palms, her daughter’s smiling face talking Oz-like to everyone.
From the sink, another friend, Ellie, and I gazed in quiet wonder as the cheery, disembodied image traveled by.
“Am I the only one who thinks this is like the Jetsons?” she said, but she wasn’t.
A year ago my spouse, sons and I spent the holidays at my mother and stepfather’s house, in Maryland, and my sister Meg set up a Skype time for us Christmas morning with my brother and his partner in Jakarta, my brother’s current posting. Last month my family members in Maryland again Skyped with Ted and Clayton, as well as my sister Lucy and young nephew Sam, visiting in Jakarta from Lucy’s teaching job overseas. Moments later I picked up my ringing phone to hear Sam’s little voice wishing me a merry Christmas. They didn’t Skype us because we didn’t have it.
Ah, but within hours we did. Both of my sons received laptops this year for Christmas-birthday presents. By afternoon the boys not only had installed Skype but were testing it by Skyping each other, talking downstairs to upstairs. The instant they had visuals, they delightedly gave each other the finger. (Each Christmas morning they lie in bed in their rooms and wake each other up by text.)
When I was a teen we talked on phones nightly, sprawled hidden behind large items of furniture while using the “extension” phone, perhaps with a then modern long cord. Busy signals were often a problem for families, and when friends called, actual parents might answer the phone. A boy calling a girl braced for the possibility of a father picking up, and my answering siblings were always uncool, dancing around in glee to report, “A boy!”
My sons receive all calls – and of course texts – with no middleman role at all from parents. That is a huge sea change.
Even as I assimilate continual changes, I can never anticipate them. I think of Skype as for distance, and then hear talk in my younger son’s room after dinner, and realize he is Skyping with friends he just saw in school or at basketball. The other weekend he had a friend by for a sleepover, and from upstairs I heard new voices, eventually realizing they had Skyped a girls’ sleepover across town.
My other son’s preferred mode of communication still remains texting, an apparent continuous loop of it, which is great for a parent because it enables checking in anytime.
A year ago he was a passenger in a vehicle driving cross-country to a bike race, with the going too bumpy for studying. Worried about safety – someone falling asleep at the wheel – I texted regularly, and thought he might like it, since he had nothing to do and was so far from home. Then two texts came back saying: “mom you don’t have to text me every 5 mins” and “mom you really need to chill.”
It is part of being a teenager to want to communicate, at least with peers, all the time. It’s only the ways that keep changing, and changing, in our Jetsons world.
– Alison Osius lives in Carbondale.
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