Simon Kelner: The Skype's the limit for my technophobic brain

Kelner's view


I have sat in more advertising presentations than is good for me. I've had more than my share of creative types with their sharp haircuts, their blue-framed spectacles and their Perspex briefcases. And I would be filled with joy if I never heard the phrase "low-hanging fruit" again.

Whether it is an art, a science or just a self-perpetuating industry of useful idiots, advertising is all around us as never before. The advent of digital communication has meant we are now constantly bombarded with messages, and never has there been more of a premium on the sort of advertising that is a provocation, and that cuts through the general din to make you think.

I saw one such ad on the side of a bus yesterday. It was for the internet video phone service Skype, and it read: "When did it become OK to text mum happy birthday?" This sentence presented a clear, direct challenge, and led my brain in a couple of directions. First of all, it made me wonder whether it is always beyond the pale to text birthday greetings to someone close to you, or is there a level at which it becomes acceptable? A relative threshold, if you like. For instance, it's my brother's birthday next week.

He might find it weird if I send him a card (in fact, he probably thinks it's weird that I've even remembered his birthday at all) but will he think it a cursory gesture if I just text him? I can't imagine so. For better or worse, texting has become the means of communication for most of us – so much easier than actually talking to people – and the only reason you might not text your mum "happy birthday" is out of respect for the last generation to feel that texting is impersonal.

Of course, the advert is designed to make you use Skype, though that may prove something of a technological challenge for the elderly.

My other thought process was about Skype itself. I am a relatively recent convert to this means of communication, because my daughter has been travelling for a few months and doesn't want to spend money on phone calls that she could be spending on drink. I am lost in admiration for technology that allows me to talk to her, and see her on my iPad. My mind is even more boggled by the fact that neither of us seems to be paying for the privilege. She is back home next week, and I am obviously looking forward to seeing her. But I wondered yesterday: would I be even more excited to see her if I had not been in regular Skype contact?

I've already seen that her freckles have come out in the sun, and her hair has grown. To miss someone is a beautiful thing, but has Skype just slightly dulled the expectation of reunion? It's the joy of seeing a face both familiar and unfamiliar that makes for such a profound feeling, and the hours of Skype may have dispelled any lingering mystique. So how best to welcome her back? I know, I'll send her a text.

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