The “Bits & Bytes” Column by Chris Leto has relocated from the Senior Advocate to the AGE of Austin blog!
Skype is a relatively new communication device that allows users to make voice and calls to other users on the Skype network. Additionally, calls to traditional phone lines can be made for a small fee. This technology has expanded to include instant messaging, file transfers such as picture albums, and video chat. This can be a great tool for seniors to keep in touch with family members that they may not get to see on a regular basis. All that is needed in order to register is a computer with access to the internet and in order to have face to face chat, either a computer with a web cam or an external webcam. Skype also has international capabilities that are available for a fee. The great thing about this technology is that allows video conferencing. So, for example, you are in Austin. You have two kids, one in California and one in Florida. If they both had Skype as well, you could all three chat at the same time for free. This could make planning visits or holidays a breeze.
The main advantage to Skype is that it is 100% free as long as you are chatting with another person on Skype. This can allow for savings in long distance calling with the added bonus of getting to talk face-to-face. It is especially helpfully if you have family living out of the country because international calls can be very expensive. Skype also allows for easy importing of contacts from a variety of programs such as Microsoft outlook, Myspace, or facebook.
A lot of computers do not come with built in webcams and therefore would require an external one to be purchased and attached to your computer. I common misconception about webcams is that they are expensive and difficult to install. This may have been the case once upon a time but with advances in webcams this is no longer the case. A quality webcam can be purchased for fewer than fifty dollars and installation normally involves a single cord plugged into the back of your computer. Put the accompanying CD in the computer and follow the easy instructions on the screen. In order to download Skype, access the internet and go to the URL http://www.skype.com. On the right hand side, there will be a couple of options for downloading. Choose the one according to your operating system, Mac, Windows, or Linux.
Skype also allows you to send instant messages to other users who are online at the same time as you. This would allow you to message a different person than you are talking to, either to say hello or set up a face to face chat in the near future. Additionally, Skype will allow you to send SMS, or text messages, to cell phones in order to either plan a time to Skype or simply wish your grandson in Louisiana good luck in his baseball game that evening.
The only downside to SMS messaging is that there is a flat fee associated with sending these messages. Skype also has an application or the iPhone and other selected phones that will allow you to have free Skype to Skype calls as long as you are in a location where you can receive wireless internet. Additionally, this application can be a substitute for calling internationally as rates are typically cheaper with Skype than with your cell phone carrier. This applies if you only make a few calls a year, for regular calling, I recommend talking to your cell phone provider.
Another great feature of Skype is the ability to transfer or receive files. This allows for easy transfer of photo albums to or from your computer. This makes bragging to your friends about your family easy and free. I recommend Skype to anyone that has internet access and would like to see their family’s faces a little more often. With plenty of features and at a great price (free), Skype is a must have in order to keep up with loved ones that are not within driving distance of visiting or that you would like to keep up with more. It is also very user friendly and much easier to use then most other video chat services.