Today I have been contemplating technology. That collection of robot-powered tools that have become ubiquitous in modern life. The machinery that fuels our work and play life in both small and massive ways. The word that comes with a warning of social collapse, relationship destruction and the demise of the beautiful written word.
I am a hopeless nostalgic who longs for simpler times and champions the art of being present. I loath the common practice of device checking mid-conversation and multiple-screen consumption (although I too am guilty of both). Technology gets a bad rap and I am often one of the voices of discontent. This brings somewhat of a contradiction, however – and certainly confusion – when applied to my work. Without technology I have no blog, no voice, no instant connections or on-tap sources of inspiration. And so by way of resolution I have decided to be choosy (and yes, perhaps hypocritical) in what I champion. Social media for the purpose of knowledge sharing and career progression? Hurray! Over-sharing, fake-life portrayal and obnoxious levels of online engagement when in the company of others? Boo! On the whole, I technology bash.
Yesterday, however, I began to rethink. I considered who invented Skype and if his name was in fact Mr. Skype. I wondered if he ever knew how much he was providing and how many lives he was touching when he cracked the code on his invention. I pondered whether he realised what a powerful tool the video would become when making calls. I realised that he would likely never know that he had made my day.
My brother left for Melbourne when I was 14 years old. As I said before, by that time he had long lived away from home and I was a self-obsessed teenager. Now it is almost two decades later and he’s still living there, with my beautiful sister-in-law and their much-loved cat. I joined them for a very happy, extended stay some years back; my little sister is now lucky enough to live in the same city as them (and they her). When he first left, however, contact was limited and spread out. His calls came from payphones and I’m pretty sure they were only affordable on payday. The option to call him wasn’t there as he didn’t have his own phone for a long time (or at least that was his story). Email was in its infancy and really no one in Ireland was yet using it. For my parents, speaking to him was a rare, much-anticipated treat. And they often missed the call. There were no pre-arranged times agreed via text. My mum would ask if he was eating and had he lost weight. He replied with a yes and a no although I’m pretty sure a no and a yes would have been more appropriate. She realised this herself when he rocked through Dublin airport looking decidedly slimmer than the few years previous. That sealed his over-sized portion fate for the remaining days of his visit.
The longwinded point that I am attempting to convey is that communication was stilted. We’re not talking families at the mercy of airmail but it was certainly not the convenient, accessible and mostly-instant correspondance we enjoy today. Fast forward a number of years and the connection possibilities are endless. A few months back I took to the aforementioned Skype machine to have a prearranged chat with my brother and sister-in-law, with the added bonus of my sister and brother-in-law (can you keep up?) visiting them at the time. Special Gentleman and I were excited to get to interact with them all at once and see their faces with our own eyes. As time went on SG had to run off to work so began saying his goodbyes. Then cool as a cucumber my brother said ‘oh, before you go we just wanted to let you know that we’re having a baby’. Ensue chaos, tears and a just-saved-from-smashing laptop (me doing the dropping; him doing the saving). This was without doubt the most joyous, delightful, heart-filling news and we all got to share it together over two screens. It turns out that they had an exact run of this conversation a couple of hours previous with my parents, only my sister and brother-in-law hadn’t known beforehand so there was surprise and screaming all ’round and they all got to share it, on a different combination of screens. Before we got off the call we were shown a picture of the scan, the ‘huge’ bump and the excited faces of the parents to be. It was magical and I will never, ever forget it.
Since then we have Skyped at various intervals and seen the growing bump whilst exchanging news. We have shared Christmas greetings; the nieces and nephews over here have been able to chat and give their thoughts, the youngest of them insisting he would like the baby to be called Sausage. From that day on the bump has had a name! On the evening of the 4th of January my entire family became wrecks of anticipation as we counted down hours and waited for news. In the early hours of the morning I got word that it was a boy, a beautiful boy! It was a text from my Papa. They had a call from their son, from his mobile. As far as I can tell the whiskey was broken out ’round my folks house and very little sleep was to be had. They were grandparents again – their son had a son – and the whole world where to know about it (via text). When I woke the following morning I received a call from my little sister’s Australian mobile to my Irish mobile. We were delighted aunties celebrating the news that was still just hours old. She has met Sausage and was telling me all about him. I was asking questions and she was answering immediately. Straight afterwards I received four images of our new little nephew directly to my phone, via Whatsapp.
Yesterday morning, whilst still basking in the most beautiful of news, I wondered if the new parents had their laptop with them in the hospital. After a few texts back and forth, a Skype date was arranged, pushed back, delayed, confirmed and reconfirmed. Soon that beautiful robotic ring was filling the air and my brother’s smiling face popped up. on my laptop screen There we were in the hospital room with them. My sister in law, the new Mama (wishing to stay off camera as much as possible!); my brother, the new Papa; and my gorgeous little nephew, Sausage, in all his newborn glory. I was treated to live video angles from above and from the side. Initially he was perfectly still but the more I squeaked and squealed his little face crumpled up. My brother correctly observe that he already had the O’Brien’s ‘elevenses’ which appear between the eyes when we’re irritated. My voice was irritating him, all the way from Ireland when he wasn’t even a week old, and I got to see his reaction. Get used to it little man, I’m afraid this is my personality. I’m sure you’ll learn to love it. I, on the other hand, was instantly, completely and ridiculously in love. I saw his face, a perfect combination of his parents, and I adored every (we’re pretty sure red) hair on his head. He was the most fabulous gift and I was seeing him in 3D and chatting with my brother like we were in the same space. I could see his face as he spoke of his son’s personality and his other half’s bravery. I could read from his expression what was making him tired and what was keeping his energy up. Mostly, I could see pure pride. I dreamed of reaching in and cuddling the little man but unfortunately laptop travel hasn’t been invented yet. For now though, I was just immensely thankful that technology was part of our lives and allowing us the joy of sharing from 10,692.27 miles away.
It turns out Skype was created by a duo, entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. So in the name of gratitude and awe, let’s raise our bottles of milk to two of the world’s most generous Scandinavians. Tack så mycket.
Who knows – perhaps it will be Sausage that invents laptop travel…
x Irene x