October 14, 2005

Skype and glaciers

For even those of us who spend nearly all day every day online, the internet will still serve up a gee-whiz moment once in a while. I had one last week.

It was breakfast time. I was multi-tasking the usual way: making coffee, looking at the morning papers, listening to the radio, checking my email, and wondering where in the world were my children. One, I knew, was heading west from Bangalore to San Francisco.

Then the computer rang. Or more precisely, Skype was announcing an incoming call. My mom in Florida? My sister in Rome? No. It was my son, at 35,000 feet above Greenland. There was a wireless connection on the plane.

The encounter was stunning. We had one of those inane conversations the older ones among us remember from the early days of “long distance” by telephone, when all the kids would line up in the dining room on a Sunday morning for a chance to say hello to the grandparents, who lived 500 or 2500 miles away. “Be quick; it’s long distance!” the parents would warn. Only, this time, the expense wasn’t the issue. It was our amazement that our computers could connect with each other under such circumstances.

“Hi! How are you! I can’t believe this! How can you be calling – for free– over the internet, up in the stratosphere!” But that was the beginning, and it only got better.

My son was describing his clear view of the glaciers below. “Wait!” he said, “I’ll send you photos!” And a few minutes later, digital photos transferred to a laptop and sent over the internet, they arrived. In almost real-time, I could see the very glaciers he was seeing out his airplane window 35,000 feet below. They were stunning and you can see them by clicking on the PowerPoint here.

We tried all the gadgetry our computers could muster: IM over GoogleTalk, IM with Skype, Skype by voice, just to see what would work. We settled on IMs, as the voice connections became scratchy and I received a lot of interference from the baby in seat 35H. It was a wonderful experience.

Do you – even the jaded ones among you – have a gee-whiz moment to share? Send it to us at: webmaster@pewinternet.org.