Those separated from their loved ones by land or sea can stay in touch — and in sight — through Skype, a free Internet program that allows users to communicate by using a webcam and a speaker.
"I don't think that I could live without it," says Célia Caracena, 20, an exchange student from France attending Southern Oregon University. "I can't really imagine how they did this 10 years ago."
Skype has become the preferred communication tool of many people distanced from their loved ones, allowing them to talk, see, instant message and send files to each other through the Internet. "Skyping" requires a speaker, microphone, webcam and a strong, preferably broadband, Internet connection.
"For something that's free, it's amazing," Caracena says. "I think the phone is less personal."
Caracena speaks with her parents and boyfriend in southeastern France about once a week on Skype "for no less than one and a half hours." She downloaded Skype about a week after she moved to Ashland.
"Skype sometimes makes me feel less homesick," she says. "It's like I'm in the living room."
Another woman in love, Mandi Meador, uses Skype to see and talk to her husband, David, who was recently deployed to Afghanistan.
"I like to be able to see all of David's mannerisms," Meador says. "It's basically like you're there with the person — or as close as you can get."
Meador says that sometimes if the Internet connection is bad the call gets dropped or the picture freezes. In order to avoid these issues, the couple get on Skype, mute it and then call each other on the phone so they can hear each other better but still see each other.
"A lot of our dating was through Skype. Sometimes we would turn on the camera, go to sleep, and wake up and there you are," she says. "The things you do when you're in love."
Judy Ryden, a Grants Pass resident, uses Skype to talk to her cousin in Indiana, a cousin in Kansas and her daughter in Idaho.
"One of the nice things about Skype for me is you can show something," Ryden says. "I'm a grandma, so the kids come home from school and show me their pictures."
Ryden says her daughter once sent her a paper to proofread. After she read it through, she "skyped" it back to her and they discussed over Skype the changes she made. Ryden uses Skype every day. She says her grandchildren think Skype is so ordinary.
"It's a phenomenon to me," Ryden says.
Ryden says that one of her cousins doesn't have a webcam so they use Skype just to talk.
"I turn on the camera when I'm presentable," Ryden says.
Webcams can be purchased at most electronic stores. A 1.3 megapixel camera costs between $30 and $50. Ryden says the quality of the picture depends on the type of camera. Once you have the camera, Ryden says, it's a four-step process: download Skype from www.skype.com, create a user name, register yourself on Skype, and let your friends know you're there.
"It's a free, long-distance call in the daytime," she says.
Teresa Beskow is an intern at Southern Oregon University. Reach her at 776-4464 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.