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March 3, 2013

Skype: the George Jetson phone arrives

NORMAN — I worked recently for a lady who asked me to buy her a video camera, or “webcam,” for use with her computer. She has relatives overseas, who had been pestering her for the longest time to get a webcam so that they could keep in touch over the Internet.

“How,” you may ask, “would a video camera for my computer help me keep in touch with my family and friends?” Remember those video telephones that we were all promised back in the 1970s and 80s? They never quite materialized, did they? Even though the technology to make video phones did in fact exist, it was so expensive that hardly anyone could afford it. The Internet, for all practical purposes, didn’t really exist at the time and the idea of video phone calling for the masses just sort of faded away.

Things are different, now; relatively powerful home computers, laptops and tablets, combined with inexpensive video cameras and the Internet, have made video phone calls a reality. I remember watching episodes of the sci-fi cartoon “The Jetsons” on TV when I was a kid, seeing George Jetson make calls on his videophone and thinking, “Jeepers, why don’t we have one of those in our house?” Now, we do, and now you, too, can contact anyone in the world and see their face and hear their voice, all for free. One of the easiest ways to do this is using a free service called Skype.

You can somewhat do the same thing with some modern smartphones, but the results are not nearly as satisfying as with a larger-screened computer. To get started, you and whoever you wish to contact will both need a computer and the Skype program. Any modern computer will do, but those with faster processors and larger amount of random access memory (RAM) will see better performance. Faster Internet connection speeds will give better results, too.

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