From cave drawings to the Pony Express to the Internet, human beings have been creating new and improved ways of communicating with each other since forever. But nothing has ever been invented that could take the place of connecting with someone in person – that deeply personal experience that encompasses all the natural ways we have to relay feelings and information – facial expression, voice, body posture, touch. Video chat, however, comes very close.
Before you jump to “it’s too expensive, too complicated, I don’t have time to learn one more technical thing,” a few points. Services such as Google + Hangouts and Skype, the most popular platforms, are easy and free (Skype does charge for some advanced features). All you need is a computer with a built-in webcam – which most computers have today – and access to the Internet.
Secondly, of all the stereotypes about women at midlife and beyond, the one that comes closest to the truth is that we can be a bit – how do I put this – intimidated by technology. Oh, please. We’ve been kicking down barriers our whole lives, and we ain’t afraid a-nothin’. It’s very important for us to use the tools that are made available in order to stay connected, relevant and integrated into our world.
Most importantly, video chats are about communicating. We’re women, this is what we do! Soon you will think no more about having a video conversation with your best friend in Boulder than you do about texting or calling her.
“I use Google + Hangouts because it’s more of an intimate conversation talking to someone when you can see their face,” says broadcast journalist and Google + Hangout pioneer Sarah Hill. “You can see a person’s body language. You can see the child they’re holding on their lap. You can see the color of the shirt they’re wearing. Visual cues add to the layers of communication and peel back the layers of miscommunication.”
Becca Niederkrom, host of AgingInsider.com and owner of a computer consultation company where she has brought 1,000 new – mostly older – users online in the past year, swears by Skype for both her business and personal lives. “I have a very close family and many have moved away. With one-touch login, Skype gets my whole family together,” she says. “I organized a Christmas party last year where I had my nieces and nephews showing off all their presents to my parents who were in another city. It was so much fun.”
And because Google+ and Skype are global platforms, it’s like having a magic carpet that can take you around the block or around the world in a matter of seconds. Sarah Hill calls this the Human Media Movement. “Can’t attend a birthday party? No problem,” she says, “Open a Hangout and watch them blow out the candles.”
Just imagine the possibilities. It means cooing to your new granddaughter minutes after she is born. It means visiting with your son 2,000 miles away eyeball to eyeball (pay no attention to that pile of laundry in the corner). It means attending an important business meeting without getting on a plane. At WHOA! Network – Women Honoring Our Age – we record most of our videos and many of our internal and client meetings using Hangouts. It is a flexible, efficient and powerful way to get up close and personal.
When I need to connect with someone, I decide the best method to use based on the person and the reason. For my daughters, text is the only way to go. Rarely do either of my adult darlings pick up the phone. To catch up with my Aunt Marie in New Jersey, I use the phone, landline of course. It’s smartphone to smartphone for my friend in LA, an e-card for my niece on her birthday, Evite to organize a barbecue at our house this weekend and video chat to meet and visit with anyone I want in this whole wide world.
The only drawback to this fabulous technology is that it’s advisable to brush your hair and wear clothes when you use it. In the best cartoon series ever (next to the Flintstones), Jane Jetson solves this problem by donning her Morning Mask when she takes an early morning video call with a friend. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0idWiHiasKg
Lynn Forbes is the co-founder of WHOA! Network, a movement and video network for and featuring women at midlife and beyond. Lynn’s career in print and digital media for such companies as Hearst, Scripps Networks and BlogHer has revolved around telling compelling stories and connecting fascinating people. She is most proud of the work she has done to elevate the voices and lives of women. Lynn uses Hangouts all the time. Just say WHOA!