by Laurie Israel and Michael Gross
Michael and I are brother and sister. Michael is more technologically adventurous than I, but I am gradually coming into the computer age. We are 65 and 62 respectively and are very good friends. We live 7 hours away from each other by car. We stay in touch by frequent telephone calls and visits when we can.
Videoconferencing intrigued Michael when his first grandchild was born ten years ago. He reviewed different possibilities, but all were “buggy” and hard to use. So, he abandoned the idea.
Two years ago, Michael and his sons, Josh and Matt, tried different video conferencing services. They found Skype the best. When you use Skype, you can make telephone calls to and from anywhere in the world, with video conferencing between you and any other Skype user, all for free.
Now we, and our sister Janet (age 63) enjoy frequent video visits and will never go back to pure telephoning. It’s lots of fun, and it feels like a real visit. It’s made a huge, positive difference in our relationship. Geographical distance seems to melt away.
Here’s what you do:
First, install Skype on your computer. The computer needs a fast connection (DSL or cable). It’s easy to install, but have a child, grandchild, friend or hired computer whiz handy if you need help.
You’ll need to pick a Skype name. It’s easy. You might call yourself GrandmaAdler1931, or something like that. You also need to buy a web camera (webcam), unless you have one already built into your computer. They cost between $60 – $80. Your child or grandchild can help you attach it.
Expect trouble. It will take two or three visits from the child, grandchild, or computer whiz to make Skype work reliably. You’ll have to figure out what buttons to press on the little Skype window which appears. They are only ‘logical’ to the young. We older people often have trouble deciding which buttons to press in order to make the computer do what we want. Make a clear step-by-step list as to what to do when you get onto Skype. There is even a free program called “Log Me In” where your loved ones can take control of your computer from their homes and get your Skype going. It’s magical to watch your cursor move around the screen and see text appear without your hand on the mouse!
Make sure there is someone you can “skype” so you can test it out — someone who has already installed Skype and knows how to use it. (By the way, “to skype” means to contact someone using your computer and establish an audio\video connection.)
Use the big screen option. Sit comfortably but in a position where the camera is near the line of your eyes. That way, you will be looking at camera when talking, and the other person will perceive that you are looking directly at him or her. Make sure there is enough light on you.
It takes practice, but if you’re patient and have a patient family member assist you at the beginning, you will prevail and be able to use Skype. It’s really wonderful because you can have a personal conversation with a loved one who might be very far away. You can see and talk with them as if you were in the same room.
It will change your life.
July 22, 2008
Laurie Israel is founder of Israel, Van Kooy & Days, LLC, a law firm located in Brookline, Massachusetts. She combines a family law practice with estate planning, tax, mediation and collaborative law. Laurie is currently on the board of directors of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation and the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council. Her writings include articles on mediation to stay married (marital mediation), collaborative practice, marriage, divorce, and pre- and post-nuptial agreements. She is a frequent presenter at professional conferences.