One of the things I love most about internet culture is the delightful habit we all seem to have of turning the obscure names of websites into fairly commonplace verbs. We all Google things, don’t we? And every time someone recommends a great movie to me, I Netflix it. Well, now, apparently, we should all be Skyping.
Full disclosure: I’ve never Skyped anyone. Have you ever Skyped? I really should have Skyped — I mean, I’m the perfect candidate for it. Family and friends living overseas? Check. Laziness when it comes to calling people back? Check. Always on the internet? Check. Cheap as a Leeds Avenue streetwalker? Check.
But there’s something about VoIP — Voice over Internet Protocol, or talking on the phone without a phone, for the uninitiated — that makes me shiver a little. It doesn’t seem right. Talking into my computer because someone else on the other side of the world can hear me? Please. What am I, a crazy person? No thank you. I’ll just continue to rack up these ridiculous long-distance charges on my cell phone, if it’s all the same to you.
But it seems — as with most things — that I’m the last one on the boat. (Honestly, I started thinking Uggs were kind of cute at least two years after they went out of style.)
Acquired by eBay in 2005, the U.K.-based Skype has been going strong for quite some time. I mean, your mother probably Skypes you, doesn’t she? It’s hardly on the cutting edge. My boyfriend Skypes people in Mexico, workers to whom his company has outsourced a lot of design work, asking him the sort of right-this-minute questions that you can never remember to pile into one information-loaded e-mail. When I was traveling in Asia last fall, every single country had a Skype sign in the window of their internet café, and every single computer was taken up with a dreadlocked traveler shouting into the computer about the awesome weed he’d just bought in Bangkok, while his jealous friend back in Des Moines yelled, “What? You’re breaking up!” I heard more one-sided conversations — carried out by people wearing headphones and sweating with panic when the often dicey internet connection was dropped — than I would have if I’d worked in a Bellsouth call center for a week.
We like things that are new. We like things that are free. We like things that let us do something we do often, but let us do it in a different way. And the internet is great for rolling out all of these things. I’ve heard rave reviews about Skype, about how the quality of sound is no different from that of a cellphone — sometimes even as good as a land line — and how VoIP technology is going to sunset the traditional phone forever. (I’ve heard only horror stories about Skype’s prototype-turned-competitor, Vonage, though. And none of the Skype copycats seem to be making all that much headway.)
And yet, still I can’t bring myself to Skype. It’s a mental block, perhaps, cultivated over years of cradling the phone in my hand protectively when placing a call. Add VoIP to the list of things I’ll always find just a little too disconcerting to understand. Put it right between the reelection of George W. Bush and that chicken that comes in a can.
Holly Burns will Skype you if you Skype her. Find her on the web at www.nothingbutbonfires.com