The cutting edge of keeping in touch

Winter 2008 CSANews Issue 69  |  Posted date : Dec 23, 2008.Back to list

Technology is making it easier to stay in contact with friends and family.

There's a lot to love about going south for the winter. One of the drawbacks, however, is being out of touch with family and friends. It doesn't matter whether you're gone for a week or a winter, across the border or across the ocean—being away from the ones you love is never easy.

Fortunately, with the advent of the Internet and other technologies, keeping in touch has become a lot more convenient and a lot more affordable. Here's a brief review of some of the cutting-edge ways in which you can stay in contact when you're away from home.

VoIP your phone
Love calling your grandkids, but hate the long-distance bills? Why not use the Internet to call instead? Using Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP for short), you can connect to regular telephone networks anywhere through a broadband Internet connection, thereby avoiding long-distance charges. There are many companies offering such service; Vonage is probably the best known. Visit for more details.

Instant messaging and chatting
If you have teenagers in the family, you probably already know about instant messaging (IM). Unlike e-mail, IM is structured more like an ongoing conversation that takes place before your eyes. It's a great way to catch up with the grandkids and, again, there are no long-distance charges to worry about. Software giant Microsoft offers a free IM program. Check out and click on the "Messenger" link to get started.

Webcam / videoconference
Instead of a telephone call, why not try a videoconference? All it takes is a broadband Internet connection, a webcam (typically less than $100) and the appropriate software (usually included free with the camera). Simply follow the installation instructions and you can be conferencing in minutes. Call it the next best thing to being there!

Facebook, MySpace, and social networking
Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking websites offer you the ability to interact with friends and family via an online profile page that details your hobbies, your friends and other interests. Most sites also allow you to send messages and chat online. Simply sign up for a free membership at or and get your network working for you.

Using Flikr, you can start your own online photo gallery. Post your shots, organize them and invite specific people to specific galleries of photos. It's a great way to share your travelling experiences with your loved ones back home. Best of all, it's free! Find out more at

As its name suggests, an e-card is a digital greeting card that includes short animations and audio clips, sent via your computer. Most e-card services are free, although you usually have to sign up for a free site membership. A fresh, fun way to say happy birthday, congratulations or simply hello.

Podcast bedtime story
Think of a podcast as your own private radio show that you create on your computer. While creating a podcast isn't free (you'll need a microphone, a computer and some specialized software), it can be an exceptionally personal way to share time with those back home. We can't think of a better way to read a bedtime story to your grandkids!

Whatever method you use to stay in touch, remember that the greatest gift which you can give a loved one is time. In the years to come, your children and grandchildren are unlikely to remember many of the presents, toys or gifts you give them. The time that you spend with them, though—whether that time is spent on the phone, chatting over e-mail or visiting a special web page—these are the things that will last a lifetime.