Hello. I see you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Whenever I think there is nothing new to amaze me, something comes along that knocks my socks off.

Let's start with what I've experienced in my lifetime. The farmhouse where I grew up on Killough Valley in the Ozarks over yonder didn't have a phone until a couple of years after I left for college.

Shortly after my wife and I were married, Bell Telephone began offering telephones in colors other than black. This was about the time direct-dial long-distance calls were introduced. The phone company also switched to all-numeral phone numbers.

Push-button dialing replaced rotary dialing. Dialing tones became a factor in our lives. It wouldn't be long before automated answering systems were introduced, and we've suffered mightily ever since.

The first person I ever knew who owned a cell phone was a pharmacist in Topeka, Kan., in the early 1990s. It was a bag phone, which was about as handy as lugging a bucket of water around all day so you wouldn't have to look for a drinking fountain every time you felt parched.

I thought car phones were pretty snazzy when they came out. And cordless phones at home too.

Now the cell phone in your pocket is capable of texting, instant messaging and surfing the Internet.

Last Sunday, my wife and I experienced our latest advancement in communication: using the Internet to make phone calls. More than that, we were able to see who we were talking to, and he was able to see us.

Here's how it happened.

About a month ago our computer tower bit the dust. We ordered a new tower, one that was faster and had more memory. It is extremely fast. Several months ago we got a big pipeline to the Internet. When our son in Ireland heard of all this, he asked if we would be interested in using a mini-camera hooked to our computer that would let us see him (and he us) while we talked to each other without burning up long-distance dollars at international phone rates. Heck yes, we said.

So he sent us the camera and the required software to make it work. By e-mail we agreed to call each other Sunday morning.

As the appointed hour approached, we wondered if we were technically up to making things work on our end. When the call came through, on our computer, we couldn't see each other at first. But since our son in Ireland makes his living with computers, he was able to talk us through some computer settings that needed to be made.

And there he was, big as life, smiling at us from thousands of miles away. We talked for an hour and a half.

I'll bet there are more communications surprises in the works, and if I live long enough I'll look back at Sunday's Irish-American hookup as a quaint bit of phone history. But for now, my wife and I would like to thank the computer geniuses of the world for bringing us this far.

jsullivan@semissourian.com<I>

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