When my wife and I moved abroad in 2001, there was a new technology called Instant Messaging.
If you had a really good internet connection (which at the time was a dial-up connection…remember that?) you could type a message to someone, send it off, and a bit later actually receive an answering message…if the person you were messaging was at their computer at the time, and if they also had an internet connection, and if both your connections stayed up…which wasn’t always a given back then.
Still, it made staying in touch with friends and loved ones back home exponentially easier for expats living abroad. Before then it was either letters which could take weeks or months to arrive (if they arrived at all) or expensive long-distance phone calls of questionable quality that had to be carefully scheduled and coordinated and could get dropped at any time.
I think about this a lot as I sit in my living room in a little village in Ecuador and make faces at my granddaughter in Phoenix on our frequent video chats. Our internet connection, even up here in the Andes mountains, is good enough to let me see her latest toy, hear the new words she’s putting together into longer and longer sentences, and see her reactions when I tease or play with her.
It’s not the same as being there in person, but it’s miraculously close.
It’s so miraculous, in fact, that sometimes I forget how equally miraculous it is that I can send a text message or email equally as fast, and the person I’m communicating with doesn’t even need to be at their computer…they simply need to have their smartphone with them.
Compared to the early days of “instant” messages, it really is instantaneous.
The arsenal of communication services that expats now have available for staying in touch with folks back home—or almost anyone else, anywhere else on the planet—is truly large these days.
We, of course, use email. But we also use Facebook messaging for instant communication with friends. We use services like WhatsApp and FaceTime from our smartphones that let us text, voice, and video message. We use Skype for both audio and video calls.
We also have MagicJack, which lets us use an actual landline telephone to make calls, but we rarely use it with a landline phone anymore since the MagicJack app on our smartphone does the same thing.
All of these services work with either a local WiFi connection or via cell, but the flips and twists of cell phone plans and international connectivity are still too complicated for me to have any desire to figure out. I’m waiting for someone to come up with a plan that provides unlimited talk, text, and data anywhere on the planet for one reasonable flat rate.
Until then, I don’t seem to have any trouble finding an available WiFi network over which to work all these communications miracles.
The days when expats were out of touch…with family and friends, with current events, with world news, with almost anything…are gone.
There are some things about modern technology I disagree with and wish had never been invented…but modern communication technology isn’t one of them.
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