A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Three Former Sailors, Technological Advances & Skype
Friday, January 18, 2008

It was in 1968 watching 2001: A Space Odyssey that characters in the film ever so casually had video conversations with their families from remote areas in space. It was so realistic, so matter of fact that the excitement of reading the explanation in Dick Tracy's comic strip every time he used his video/wireless watch was not necessary.

My 85-year old first cousin and godmother, Inesita O'Reilly Kuker, who lives in Buenos Aires, used to grudgingly send me, perhaps a letter a year where she would use up the small sheet of writing paper to tell me how she hated to write. Los avances tecnológicos finally lured her to the use of a computer and not a week passes without some missive from her. A renewed sense of stuff shared through the years finally brought Rebecca, Rosemary and I to visit Inesita, my half brother and family in 2004.

But the usual communications gap happens. Time passes and the emails fade and before you know it the connections are gone. But I make my efforts and I prod them and send them emails or call them on the phone. I sometimes wonder if it is at all worth the effort. Should not one put emphasis on those physically near us? It is my wife who often says of people with whom I shared a freelancer's profession at Vancouver Magazine in the 80s, "You may have had something in common with them then, but no longer. It is of no use to call them up or visit them and try to make things as they were."

I recently talked to one of Inesita's grandchildren, José O'Reilly in spite of the cross platform situation (a Mac versus a PC) that had separated us when we tried to use MSN video calling. Skype solved this and we were able to see each other in that suspicious off-camera look (the video cam are positioned over the monitor) that nags me about MSN/Skype communication. But it was great!

I called Inesita (she has no camera) my computer to her phone and the sound fidelity was amazing. I talked to my former heartthrob (and first cousin) Elizabeth Blew with the same method. We talked for over an hour. But it was with my favourite nephew (Inesita's eldest son and José's father) Georgito where I felt some sort of a strain. He said, "Here we are talking and after some time we have nothing to say to each other." His statement left me saddened. Could it be true? Is video communication better than none? Can a snail male relationship of perhaps 8 to 9 letters a year suffer the rapidity and compression of a one hour Skype?

Rosemary and her older sister never had much in common. Her sister Ruth was into sports and eventually became a Physical Education insructor.Rosemary was never into sports. Their relationship was remote and more so with the geographic separation between Vancouver and Brockville, Ontario. They now talk and see each other for hours on MSN. They talk about who died, who is sick, the gardens and Ruth's vacations in Cuba and Florida. MSN has brought them closer when they weren't close at all.

I Skyped Felipe Occhiuzzi and we talked for an hour and a half. He is finally beginning to warm to technology. His youngest daughter hauled the computer away. His older and married daughter in Italy told me, "If that computer were still at my father's it would have gathered dust and he would have placed a pottet plant on top."
I tried to needle him into losing his temper by telling him that his approach to life was a negative one. "It is negative only from the outside, I smile within, " he explained. When I broached the subject of technology he told me, "No quiero quedar colgado de la palmera." I had never heard this bit of porteño logic. To be left hanging from the palm tree (there are many in Buenos Aires) means to have life pass you by. I have sent emails to Occhiuzzi via his daughter explaining what a hyperlink is. My emails are full of them and for someone who writes longhand on paper it will be a revelation.

If portable digital books are to become a reality they will have to adopt the concept of hyperlinks or such features of being able to click on any word (as in NY Times articles) and get a dictionary definition. I think that Occhiuzzi will understand the potential.

Not so and not yet Carlos Alberto Santoalla. I Skyped him and he has as an excuse to not communicate that he was an inward person and that he liked it to be like that. I asked him if he had a computer. "We have two or three but I don't think they work. I don't know if we have a connection to the internet as I perhaps have not paid." He told me his wife had email but he could not remember her address. The same excuse was given when I asked for his son's emails. He did tell me that one of them was a web designer. He told me his name was Federico. While Santoalla gave excuses for not remembering his email I Googled Federico Santoalla and obtained his email address. With vague promises that somehow he would keep the lines of communication open I hung up and wrote to Federico. Federico replied and explained how his father rejected all efforts to seek technological advance.

It was Occhiuzzi who explained it best. "Santoalla never recognized me when he saw me at the door because he is a bat. He uses his sonar to avoid looking at people and he moves out of their way. That is the way he is." In spite of it all I have not given up and perhaps soon I will Skype Santoalla. Could it be possible that there is a relationship of friends there?


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