Tech Writer David Pogue Writes About Being Homesick And iChat/iSight

in General Discussion edited January 2014
New York Times - December 4, 2003


When Technology Is Heartwarming

I took last Thursday off from writing this column, and you took last Thursday off from reading it. But I have a Thanksgiving thought to share, even though it's about something that happened two weeks ago.

I was in London at a computer conference. I was jet lagged, on the verge of a cold -- and after nearly a week away -- missing my wife and two young children.

Following a talk, I asked some stragglers in the auditorium if there was anywhere I could get online to check my e-mail.

A young man named Tim Haigh offered to show me to a coffee shop a few blocks away that had wireless Internet access. Tim and I paid our $8 for the hour, bought fizzy lemon sodas, popped open our PowerBooks, and began to surf. As we chatted, he mentioned that he often sat in this very coffee shop and conducted video chats with a buddy in the States, using an Apple iSight.

The iSight is a compact, tubular, high-quality video camera, about the size of a Hostess Ho-Ho. It has a built-in microphone and lens cover. It has no power cord of its own; it connects to a Macintosh with a single FireWire cable. As long as you both have broadband Internet connections, you and another iSight (or camcorder) owner can conduct a videoconference.

The quality is excellent: smooth motion, full screen if you like, and very little delay. It's absolutely nothing like the crude, jerky, stuttering, massively delayed video you may have tried with cheap Web cams.

In any case, I perked right up when Tim mentioned his video chats, because I had an iSight, too, perched on my screen back home. I had no idea you could use it across the Atlantic.

Indeed you can, Tim said -- in fact, he carries his iSight around with him.

"You mean you have it with you right now?" I exclaimed. "Can I borrow it?"

It was about 5:30 pm, meaning that it was 12:30 pm at home. On the chance that my wife was at her computer, I fired off an e-mail to her, suggesting that we try out an intercontinental video call.

It took a few minutes for me to explain to her, by furious back-and-forth e-mail messages, how to open iChat and start up the video link. (Most of the time was spent with me, a color-blind husband, imploring her to click the "orange camcorder icon," which turns out to have been green.)

And then, suddenly, there it was: My wife Jennifer's live image and her voice, transmitted in real time 3,500 miles across the globe -- instantly, crystal clear, and (by the way) free. I paraded around the coffee shop with my laptop and the iSight, showing her the local ambiance. (Jennifer, grinning: "Hey, buy me one of those chocolate croissants!") Maybe I was just overtired and sentimental, but it was an almost overwhelming experience.

She rounded up the kids. They didn't seem to grasp the full scope of the technological miracle before them, which I found tremendously reassuring; I could see for myself that none of the traveling dad's worst nightmares had come true. We caught up for awhile; I told a silly bedtime story to the kids; we showed each other how it was dark out in England, but still bright at home. Finally, after about 20 minutes, we "hung up."

There's a lot of junk in technology, a lot of hassle and frustration, a lot of disappointment. But this moment was like a TV commercial. It was an emotional, powerful, simple, perfect example of how technology can change a moment, solve a problem, and despite the gulf of time and distance, bring you face to face with the people you love.


  • Reply 1 of 5
    If I could afford it, I'd buy everyone in my family an iSight. I'm going to Seattle for 5 days next week and it would so cool to be able to chat with my fiancee without having to hold telephones up to our ears every night for half an hour. Oh well... one day when I'm making the big bucks.
  • Reply 2 of 5
    I think i'm gonna cry....
  • Reply 3 of 5
    What does amuse me about the story is that Pogue didn't realize he could use iChat/iSight in London to "phone" home. Duh!
  • Reply 4 of 5
    dmband0026dmband0026 Posts: 2,345member
    I'm sure it would have hit him eventually, but thats just not something you ever think about doing...just one of the little things in life. Thats a cool story.
  • Reply 5 of 5
    rokrok Posts: 3,519member
    i'm seriously considering an isight in the new year, as i would like to keep in touch with freinds back in toronto that my wife and i left behind. we're currently spending an awful lot on long distance, but we've got all this bandwidth we're paying for... may as well use it.of course, only one of them owns an isight, but at least everyone would be able to see us, right? that might convince them to shell out for a couple, too.
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