Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reach out and touch someone

Do you remember AT&T's slogan? With the omnipresence of cell phones, and the immediate access of text and instant messaging, the notion of an "old-fashioned" phone conversation seems horribly antiquated. And given that I have access to all of these tools at once, that old-fashioned phone call is rarely the intimate experience it can or should be. I have many friends with whom I'm speaking by phone, reading email, and sometimes even simultaneously glancing at a message on my cell phone.

Technology frustrates me, even as I rely on it for my work and personal connections. During a strategic planning meeting for the University yesterday, the dizzying array of future possibilities courtesy of and dependent on technology left me with a headache. I was ready to fold up all things digital and toss them in a bin for the rest of the day. (Notice that I still refer to the digitized world as something I can put my hands on and put away!) How fortunate I am that I didn't do so.

We've been experimenting with Skype (we're behind, I know, but it's "new" and fun for us!), typically speaking with my sister in Boston. The timing is ideal, as she is about to undergo radioactive iodine treatment for thyroid cancer and will need to live in isolation for a time. Skype will allow us to "see" her each day, and brings the energy of our kids briefly into her home. While testing out a new microphone last night, we were able to be in her home--noting the clothes drying rack, looking with her for her cat, and catching her peering back at the TV. (Television is so 1980s, don't you think?)

We originally bought the videocamera in order to see my grandparents in Florida. They are living at 90 and 91, but my grandfather has cancer and is quite certainly dying, and we wanted to be more present to their lives than we are able to be via the phone. After "hanging up" with my sister, we gave a call to Nana and Father, as we know them. I originally tried via the landline, and my grandfather sounded tired....a tired that concerned me about what I'm missing in not being there now. But then we switched to the camera, and I could see him--could see that the exhaustion in his voice wasn't fully in his face, and could appreciate knowing that they are there, together, amongst friends, and alive for every minute they are given to be so. I loved blowing them kisses, sharing our mutual enthusiasm for a family visit coming up in January, and being in their living room for a few minutes.

The "bug" of being with family had bitten, and so we placed yet another call--this time to my sister-in-law and her family in Oregon. All four of them popped in front of the laptop, and when we confessed to missing a number of home updates in the four and a half years since our last visit, my sister-in-law picked up the laptop and took us on a refresher tour of the house. It was awkward at times (I was the only extravert in the mix of seven of us "talking" for an hour or so!), lovely to see them in their happy home, and a wonderful reminder that technology is only one part headache.

It's also part home.

2 comments:

Grampa Peter said...

So much of technology is impersonal, and I'm an old fashioned old man who is still learning to separate the impersonal from that which truly enables us to live more fully. Having had recent tests in the medical field I marvel at what technology is able to do. And I'm looking forward to being able to see my family up North and others...which will allow me to be even more a part of their lives. I still will continue with some of the old fashioned ways, but also embrace the new...

Sue said...

I think I'm farther "behind" than you are, my friend -- I knew that kind of video/phone technology was on the Jetsons, but I didn't even know it had a name (Skype?!). haha! What a wonderful gift you've been given, being able to connect that way with your family -- especially your grandparents. Seems like we all have a love/hate relationship with progress and technology ... the thought of my kids having cell phones annoys/frightens me to no end, yet I can never be thankful enough for the technology that has allowed my mom to survive two bouts of cancer, when once-upon-a-time she would have succumbed to the disease. Very interesting ...