Ambient Skype

For the first time in my life I used a Skype video call with my wife today as an ambient backdrop to life, rather than just as tool for having a conversation. I’d always wanted to try it, ever since hearing my friend and colleague Dave Newbold mention, in a presentation he was giving a couple of years ago about the near future for technology and social interaction, something he’d heard described as ‘ambient Skype’, whereby people leave a voice client running in the background while they are away from home as a way of being almost-there.

Where the marginal cost of bandwidth is at or near zero, you don’t have to constantly talk to make use of realtime online communication tools. You can relax and enjoy being in each other’s company, as you would at home. A bit like Leisa Reichelt’s term, Ambient Intimacy, but less about easily staying loosely in touch with many people, and more about actual intimacy between two people by using a (normally) synchronous tool in an undirected way.

Time zones have often made it difficult in the past. I’m in the US and Rachel is back in the UK, our lives don’t overlap much, and we have to make an effort to find times we’re both online, or revert to text and email. Today though, I had some free time in the late afternoon and badly needed a nap. Since it was early enough to coincide with Rachel’s bed-time, we tried falling asleep together, apart.

Ambient Skype

I found this to be very comforting. It’s rather reassuring to drift off with the familiarity of hearing each other breathing and (for me) the everyday noises of home in the background. A nice way to reduce the distance during a long trip abroad. I don’t know why we didn’t try it sooner.

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46 replies on “Ambient Skype”

  1. Nice idea, this takes what I’ve done with Beth to a whole new level. While I’m away on a business trip, we’ve left Skype running during the time we overlap so we can just chat away when we feel like it rather than having to sit down and force an unnatural conversation between us.

  2. I first started using Skype a few years ago when a good friend moved to France. We found that often calls that started out as ‘normal’ calls would drift into ‘ambient’. He’d be cooking in the background, me likewise or reading, we’d play some online backgammon, occasional comments, but no real ‘conversation. Much better than a forced, get this over and done with conversation…. especially for men!

  3. I use skype a lot but I am tethered to the computer with it.
    I suspect if both Anthony and I had wireless head sets it would make the hole he leaves whilst in Scotland much easier to bear.
    It is a lovely idea.

  4. Very nice picture.

    It is spoiled somewhat in my mind by the image of you beating the computer’s shutter speed, by jumping into the bed after having clicked on the screenshot key. :)

  5. Lovely

    Sometimes I think the only reason we invented this whole computing infrastructure is to be able to play games with one’s nearly two year old son over video iChat.

  6. It’s funny that humans take new technology and immediately apply it to sex only to realize YEARS later it might have other psychological uses in their lives.

  7. My partner and I have been managing a long distance relationship for about six months now. We’ve have matching headsets and have been doing this every night we’re apart since almost the beginning. We even wait up for each other. It’s been a major way of managing the distance. Glad we’re not the only ones!

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  9. My fiancée and I live continents apart with me in the USA and her in Korea. One of the nicest times we spent together while being physically apart was when we both got on Skype and worked and listened to music. It’s really a wonderful thing and it would be great if Skype made some features geared more towards this (maybe more directly streaming music as well as voice?). It really makes it easier. It’s good to hear others are doing this.

  10. When I first started dating my girlfriend we lived 4 hours apart due to college and stayed in touch mostly through skype. Every night we would talk on skype and do our random schoolwork and whatnot. Eventually we’d go to bed with the conversation open. Whoever got up first in the morning would hear the other breathing and/or snoring. It was always quite a moment. Now, it’s two years later, we live together and often reminisce about the many nights where skype was the closest we could be to each other. We had some skype calls open for days and days on end! :D

  11. My parents are 9o yr. young. I”m going to use skype as a montoring device to keep an ear out for them. Thanks

  12. I’ve done this with my girlfriend over the phone… It definitely is relaxing, I’ll say that.

  13. I lived in the UK, and my (now) wife lived in the US. We’d always speak every night over skype and sometimes just let it run so we could fall asleep “together”. When you’re 5,000 miles apart, anything that brings you closer together is something you treasure.

    We’re married now, and we can honestly say that thanks to Skype the jump towards living together wasn’t any effort at all!

  14. Ironically I’d had an ambient pint with a friend tonight. Since moving the Mac and have no consistent joy with MSN clients and video, I gave up the other day and finally gave Skype a go. My friend installed Skype on her new Mac too, and when I pinged her this evening she explained she was working. It maybe a sleepy pub in a northern town with only a couple of customers, but it’s a sleepy pub in a northern town with WiFi! Was rather cool speaking to the barmaid with her Mac sat on the bar on Skype, though the beer didn’t really work out ;-).

  15. Wow, u guys r so lucky.. We here in South Africa r dragging abit. Wish we had skype,wud surely ease my loneliness 4 my bf in india..

  16. I live in the UK and my fiance lives in the French Polynesia… but he sometimes takes naps during my hours of sleep and keeps the video call on all night and will wake me up when i have to get ready for work by saying “baby, wake up, its time to get ready” it’s like he’s in my room everyday… really helps manage the distance :)

  17. i always use skype for the sole purpose of sleeping ! i’ve always had long distant bf’s and sleeping with them on skype is the best <3
    at the moment i am sleepy and been up all night but cant sleep cuz my bf is not here (skype) to sleep with me.
    so i used a screenshot of him sleeping taken from a previous skype call with him to sleep =/

  18. I love this, this is how my boyfriend and I are surviving a long distance relationship. We have relied on skype as a means to hang out. We regularly have date nights where we watch movies over skype :) its quite fun and very special to the both of us.

    We are lucky to only be off by an hours time difference.

    Im so glad it is helping others feel close when you’re forced to be apart.


  19. my boyfriend and i met online and when we wernt together we fell asleep on webcam together. I think we did it for a whole year and a half before we started living together

  20. I do the same thing with my husband, we’re both military. He’s in japan while I’m stateside. So he’ll watch my play guitar hero, cook, do my makeup whatever….
    And it’s especially nice at night when I’m scared to sleep alone, he watches over me :)

  21. Perfect. Now all of the insecure couples out there can monitor each others every move. I sure hope no one goes to the rest room or makes a midnight snack without checking in with their ever so trusting counterpart. What the hell man. This is a positive concept that will surely become a negative one in no time at all.

    Babe…babe I swear I was sleep walking. You know I would never hurt you. But why were you awake in the first place? What were you going to do? Who is he? TELL ME!!!!

    Stay in touch with SKYPE!!

  22. This is the most translucient picture of true life, and true love I have ever seen. Keep up the good work, I will try this soon…honestly a sudden pit of jealousy is hitting me right now…

  23. Hey – that looks like the same Rachel Reynolds I have been seeing while her husband’s away.

  24. I’ve done this several times with my girlfriend but I’ve found that the light from the computer prevents me from going to sleep.

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