I am bouncing off the walls at the moment with happy excitement, so I thought I’d share a little of it with you.
I have just finished a Skype Video Call with my friend Bobz in America.
This probably does not sound like a big deal to you, so I should explain: Bobz and I became penpals in 1987, and have been writing to each other for 23 years. (!) We have spoken on the phone, but we have never seen each other, except in photographs.
Today was the first time that we SAW each other ‘LIVE’ over the internet.
It was absolutely blow-your-socks-off and rock-my-world AWESOME.
In the 1980s I was a frequently listener to the Happy Station program of Radio Netherlands‘ international service on my little shortwave radio. They ran a penpal club, through which I found penpals throughout Europe and the US, as well as in various countries of South East Asia and South America where school children just like me were also eager to practice their English, while learning interesting stuff about people and their customs and ways of life.
I first started writing to Bobz in 1987, initially by hand, but later by typewriter. This was in the days before personal computers. I remember the thrill of receiving a postcard or a thick letter in my mailbox, with Bobz’ instantly recognisable scrawl on the front. (This was in the days when our post office actually *delivered* the mail, rather than dumping it by the side of the road, or tearing it open in case there was something valuable inside.)
I remember the phone ringing in the middle of the night (because of the difference in time zones between South Africa and the States, it took us a while to figure out the best times to call), and the heart-pounding excitement of talking with each other for the first time. Over the years, there were many such middle-of-the-night calls. Making an international phonecall in those days felt like a REALLY BIG thing!
We also sent photographs to each other, of ourselves, our families, our friends, the places we had visited. It all took so much time and was really costly – you had to finish a roll of film before you could take it out of the camera (well, you *could* take it out, but film was expensive so you wouldn’t really want to), then it would take a few days to have it developed, then it took some time to get the reprints done, and to write an accompanying letter, and finally you’d pop it in the post. Sometimes, the whole process took weeks!
In the 1990s, we both got computers, a dial-up modem, and email. It was fantastic! So much faster and infinitely more reliable than letters, which were going astray more and more often as we moved into the 2000s.
Two years ago, after struggling for years with a watching-your-nails-grow-during-a-download 56 kbit/s connection to the internet, we finally had ADSL installed at home. Suddenly, reading email, downloading large attachments, and browsing the internet was no longer something you tried to limit to ‘callmore time’ in the evenings, to keep the lid on a steeply ascending phonebill. Suddenly, you were connected to the Big Wide World ALL the time.
And so, today, we both got our Skype connections and webcams sorted out, and we were able to see each other, and each other’s homes, for the very first time.
As I said above: It was absolutely blow-your-socks-off and rock-my-world awesome.