The hype on Skype
Computer communications are changing the ways families connect
Friday, March 20, 2009
Evelyn and Kurt Weber found themselves facing a difficult time away from their children. "We were leaving last spring for my husband’s third brain surgery in six years. We knew this would be tough on the whole family," says the Grayslake mother of two.
While leaving their children behind would be tough, there was one thing they hoped would make the distance easier.
Skype is a communication program that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet through their computer. In many cases, the calls are free. Skype also offers video calling, allowing face-to-face calls—a feature that greatly appealed to the Webers.
"We figured Skype was going to help us make the absence less painful. I could even help with homework better by seeing rather than only hearing," says Weber.
Skype was exactly what they anticipated it to be—a lifesaver.
"Once I felt my husband was ‘visible’ to the children, ages 6 and 11, then I even ‘Skyped’ from the (hospital) room and they talked to my husband from his hospital bed," says Weber.
She describes the ability to connect face-to-face as priceless, especially when their anticipated two-week trip turned into almost a month away from their children. "The kids even got to meet many of the nurses and doctors involved in my husband’s care. They got to see and talk to them, even ask questions."
Is Skype just hype?
Far from a fad, Skype now boasts more than 16 million users, is available in 28 languages and used in almost every country in the world. While some may be slow to break their habits with landline phones and cell phones, the interest in Skype over the last few years has soared and it is now touted as the most common communication system in the world.
What makes Skype so great? Cost-effective communications was the initial draw. Skype’s downloadable software program is free and Skype-to-Skype calls are free, too, regardless of world location. Video conferencing is the second biggest appeal. Unlike landlines and cell phones, Skype allows users with Web cams to talk face-to-face for no cost.
Who uses Skype?
The Webers’ example demonstrates how families are taking advantage of Skype’s unique attributes to stay connected in special circumstances. More and more families, however, are using Skype on a regular basis.
"We use Skype to stay in touch with our parents and so our little boy can ‘see’ them on a regular basis," says North Aurora mom Kristi Mendez, whose family lives in Nashville. "My little guy loves to ‘call grandpa on the computer.’"
Julie McCollam, whose husband is serving in the military, uses Skype to help bridge the miles between him and their children, ages 3 and 6. "Skype has become invaluable to me and my sons," says McCollam.
Tiffany Dash of Chicago finds Skype helpful for connecting with her 71-year-old father in central Illinois. "You can miss signs of decline or health issues with a senior if you’re just talking to them on the phone," says Dash, adding that she can help her father with numerous tasks thanks to the video feature. "If he had a question about a bill he received in the mail, he could use Skype to show it to me."
Perks vs. pitfalls
Nothing’s perfect, and for all its perks, there are a few pitfalls and considerations to make when using Skype.
Calls tied to the computer can limit mobility, something many families find a bit paralyzing. "It’s also not ideal for multi-taskers. I do a lot of housework while talking on the phone and, of course, that is impossible with Skype," explains Vicky Lynch.
Occasional network outages can be frustrating, too. When Marianne Hewitt’s daughter, Kristen, spent a semester in Japan, she and her husband David used Skype once a week to connect from their home in Lake Forest. "While she could not always get interconnect connectivity, when she did and we spoke, the line was so crystal clear we could get every nuance in her voice."
Most importantly, Skype is not recommended for emergency calls. It cannot identify where a call is coming from and is not a replacement for other calling options.
Either way, as a parent, it’s important to know how Skype works because your kids will likely use it to connect with friends or meet new people. But parents also need to make sure to talk with their kids about connecting with strangers and discuss appropriate behavior when participating in a video call.
Not only is Skype easy to set up, it’s simple to use. Follow these simple steps to try Skype today.
1. You’ll need:
• A computer with a keyboard and mouse.
• An Internet connection (broadband works best.)
• Speakers or ear pieces.
• A microphone (many computers have a microphone built in, however, you can buy one for a minimal cost at your local electronics store.)
• A Web cam is not required, but makes it more fun.
• A friend who also has Skype.
• Skype software: download this program for no cost at www.skype.com
2. Visit the Skype Web site and click the "Download" tab at the top of the page. On the next screen, you’ll see a tab indicating the version for your computer. Click the Download Now button.
3. The download will continue on your computer and give you step-by-step instructions on finishing your download, setting up your account and adding contacts.
4. Once you’ve added a contact, select that contact and get ready to connect.