Out of Touch?

For our final story this year, I'm going to reach back about a month, to a day in mid-November when I was sitting at my Mac after lunch, doing some bookkeeping work. I was planning to finish that up quickly, then head downstairs to the workshop to get back to the carving work, but as it happened, my afternoon took a different turn.

A small IM (instant message) window popped up in one corner of my screen, notifying me that one of my 'contacts' had sent a short message. It was from my son-in-law Ioan over in Vancouver, checking to see if I were perhaps 'free'. I typed something in reply, and a minute or two later we gave up on the typing, switching over to a video phone call instead.

When the camera came alive, and I could see his room on my screen I saw that my daughter Himi was there too. It had been quite some time since I had had a chance to talk with them, because with two pre-schoolers in the house their life is pretty busy these days, but it turned out that they had parked the kids with their grandmother for the night, and seeing by my 'status' icon that I was available, had called to chat for a bit.

I (happily) put aside thoughts of going to work, and the three of us had an enjoyable conversation. These video conversations can sometimes be a bit disconcerting, because the person at the other end never seems to be looking directly at you. They are of course looking at your image on their screen, but that is not the same location as the camera lens, so the end result is a bit cock-eyed. One soon gets used to this though, and the three of us chatted away happily for quite a long time.

We talked about everything under the sun, but one particular part of the conversation sticks in my mind. They are a young couple, very busy with children, jobs, and community activities, and - knowing that I live alone here and sometimes don't meet other people for days on end - Ioan wondered if I was 'happy' with my life.

I of course protested that I was indeed, that my days were full of fulfilling work and achievement, and that I went to bed each evening to sleep as soundly as any baby.

'But how could I be happy without friends?' was the next question, and I tried to assure him that the life I am living here is of my own choice, and - by definition - suits my personality. I did have to admit though, that I did miss some of the social interactions that I had enjoyed when living in Canada, most notably long evenings spent with friends having dinner and knocking over a bottle or two while setting right all the problems of the world. That sort of casual social interaction at home doesn't really exist here in Japan, and even though I have lived in this house for more than ten years, I have yet to enter the homes of any of my neighbours on this street.

To Ioan - who grew up in a traditional part of Europe where daily life is filled to the brim with interactions with family, friends, and neighbours - this is inconceivable, and despite my insistence that I am content with life, seems to still hold reservations about the matter!

Well, if this conversation was anything to go by, he needn't worry about my 'isolation'. I said that we had a long conversation, and I wasn't kidding. The call history on my computer shows that we spent three and a half hours on the call, which makes it the longest phone conversation I have ever had in my life, I am sure! And we only quit because Himi-chan was falling asleep at the desk (it was by then past one in the morning for her.)

It's going to be very interesting over the coming years to see how this new video-telephone technology plays out. As we move to having larger and larger screens in our homes, combined with ever-faster internet connections, it's not so farfetched to imagine that I may indeed be enjoying evenings 'together' with friends here in my home in years to come!


Comments on this story ...

Posted by: Dave

Having the Skype video telephone software has really changed my life. When I 'emigrated' to Japan around 25 years ago, the only contact I had with the rest of my family was via (very occasional) letters or postcards. We were strangers to each other.

But look at this call 'log', from the week surrounding the episode I recounted in this story!

  • November 23 : call from my sister Sherry (on vacation in Palm Springs) : 16 minutes
  • November 26 : call to my parents in Vancouver : 1 hour 7 minutes
  • November 26 : call from Sadako (here in Tokyo) : 29 minutes
  • November 27 : the call from Ioan and Himi in Vancouver : 3 hours 26 minutes
  • November 27 : call from Sadako : 53 minutes
  • November 28 : call to my parents : 23 minutes
  • November 29 : call from Sadako : 43 minutes
  • November 30 : call from my brother Simon in Germany : 24 minutes
  • November 30 : call to my daughter Fumi's cell phone in Vancouver : 45 minutes
  • November 30 : call to my parents : 21 minutes
  • ... and etc. and etc. ... day after day after day.

(With the exception of the cell phone call, these are all with full video!)

Can you imagine how much even normal long distance calls like this this would have cost just a few years ago? With the Skype software, these calls are free! (Actually, that's not quite true - the call 'out' to the cell phone in Canada cost me 2.7 yen per minute ... 121 yen in all ...)

It's such fun living in the future!

Posted by: Akemi

Yes, skype is a very useful software.
You introduced this to me, and I really appreciate it.
A lot of military families thank this, too.

Well, if you live in a countryside in Japan, you would experience more social interactions. You might feel that Oume is a countryside, but it is a part of Tokyo, anyway. And if you have small children, the situation would be different, too.

Anyway, glad to know again that you are enjoying the conversations with your family and friends :)!

Posted by: Maria

Skype has made a huge difference in my life too.
I have two daughters, one lives in San Francisco, the other in Lucca, Italy. I myself live in the middle of the country side and because I came to live here only a year ago, I hardly know anybody aside from my next door neighbors, Wouter and his wife and a few other people.
With Skype, I can talk and visit with my friends in Italy and the States and I feel I am not as isolated.
I did not know that Skype is actually an Estonia company. Estonian have just joint the euro zone and they are very good with new technologies.

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