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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  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.

    Comment by Graham White — March 13, 2008 #

  2. This is one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen.

    It reminds me a little of the Truman Show. For comfort, people would go to sleep with Truman on the television. For those of you who’ve seen the movie, here’s a reminder of the score:

    Comment by John Scott — March 13, 2008 #

  3. 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!

    Comment by Paul Rodriguez — March 13, 2008 #

  4. This is about the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a while :-)

    Comment by Frank Jania — March 13, 2008 #

  5. Will you all stop being so soft. This is creepy! :-)

    Comment by Darren Shaw — March 13, 2008 #

  6. 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.

    Comment by Catherine Steele — March 13, 2008 #

  7. awwww, that’s cute.

    Comment by Philip Campbell — March 15, 2008 #

  8. 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. :)

    Comment by David Orban — March 17, 2008 #

  9. Heh, my thoughts exactly David, but I guess cuteness doesn’t make itself…

    Comment by kyb — March 17, 2008 #

  10. 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.

    Comment by Gavin Bell — March 17, 2008 #

  11. Hi Roo,
    Long time since I last saw you at Hursley, but keeping up via the blog and a very interesting post.

    Inspired me to blog on where I thought this might affect my area:

    Best wishes,

    Comment by Alex — March 18, 2008 #

  12. It’s like your own baby monitor, for adults.

    Comment by Marshall Kirkpatrick — March 18, 2008 #

  13. 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.

    Comment by zack — March 18, 2008 #

  14. 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!

    Comment by Crystal — March 18, 2008 #

  15. […] like this idea of ambient Skype, just keeping the line open. Tuesday, March 18, 2008, 8:36pm. Life, Tech. Permalink. Comments […]

    Pingback by mark larson | — March 19, 2008 #

  16. 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.

    Comment by Donovan — March 19, 2008 #

  17. This just made me smile so much, especially at a time when I’m missing someone across the ocean quite a bit. Beautiful. Thank you.

    Comment by Sameer Vasta — March 19, 2008 #

  18. 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

    Comment by Christian J Estrada — March 19, 2008 #

  19. […] is virtually next to nothing these days, couples who find themselves apart are using Skype to recreate that “at home” feeling. It even has a name – Ambient […]

    Pingback by Drift off to sleep with Ambient Skype — March 20, 2008 #

  20. […] Ambient Skype. Interesting idea. Might be a good idea too for a company with a few small offices around the world. […]

    Pingback by Damien Mulley » Blog Archive » Fluffy Links - Thursday March 20th 2008 — March 20, 2008 #

  21. […] Ambient SkypeThis is sweet (tags: communication social lifestyle technology culture Skype) […]

    Pingback by Dagelijkse Links | Past is prologue — March 21, 2008 #

  22. this is so sweet. That is love in it’s most stripped comfortable intimate form.

    Comment by smack — March 21, 2008 #

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

    Comment by phil — March 25, 2008 #

  24. […] the same at home, giving you the feeling of almost being at home whilst away from home, known as Ambient Skype. One such activity which you can partake in, as shown in this picture, is falling asleep together. […]

    Pingback by Burkey’s Blog » Blog Archive » Ambient Skype — April 1, 2008 #

  25. […] Ambient Skype (tags: communication culture Skype ambient) […]

    Pingback by links for 2008-04-04 « New Sciences of Protection: — April 4, 2008 #

  26. this is so sweet

    Comment by Lucy — May 26, 2008 #

  27. i would hate it when I try to hump my laptop

    Comment by DivorceBoi — March 18, 2009 #

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

    Comment by Foo Bar — March 19, 2009 #

  29. This is really cool!

    Comment by Jeff — March 23, 2009 #

  30. 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!

    Comment by J — April 5, 2009 #

  31. 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 ;-).

    Comment by ® Andy — April 7, 2009 #

  32. 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..

    Comment by Nurahn — August 12, 2009 #

  33. 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 :)

    Comment by Ash — August 10, 2010 #

  34. 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 =/

    Comment by RatKing84 — August 25, 2010 #

  35. 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.


    Comment by doubleElle — November 5, 2010 #

  36. why has no one asked who took that picture yet

    Comment by ben — November 17, 2010 #

  37. 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

    Comment by Hannah — November 18, 2010 #

  38. 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 :)

    Comment by Jessica — November 18, 2010 #

  39. […] Ambient Skype Posted: November 19, 2010 by joelnickel in Culture, Technology Tags: Ambient Skype, Long Distance Relationships, Skype, Video Phone, Voice Client 0 I came across a new thing called Ambient Skype, where you leave a voice client running while you’re away from home, say on a business trip or with long distance relationships or whatever, and it’s a way of being there without being there.  The cost of the bandwidth to run it is minimal and it’s a way of staying in touch, and I have to say, kinda romantic.  You can read this person’s blog about how he and his wife use it while he’s in the US and she’s in the UK here. […]

    Pingback by Ambient Skype « Guerrilla Ontology — November 20, 2010 #

  40. 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!!

    Comment by Zak — December 2, 2010 #

  41. 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…

    Comment by Ross — December 9, 2010 #

  42. […] Skype Image by Roo Reynolds Awww. Isn’t that the cutest thing? More details here. // Share| Tweet Posted in General | Tags: Ambient, […]

    Pingback by Ambient Skype | iGtalk — January 7, 2011 #

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

    Comment by Fred — January 7, 2011 #

  44. 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.

    Comment by Anon — January 31, 2011 #

  45. […] I'm working. We can share ideas, insights, complaints and triumphs throughout the day, becoming quasi-ambient communicators in a way that would probably drive me crazy if we were in the same room all the time. This form of […]

    Pingback by Hello, friend! Will we ever meet? | Richard Hartley — October 6, 2011 #

  46. […] I'm working. We can share ideas, insights, complaints and triumphs throughout the day, becoming quasi-ambient communicators in a way that would probably drive me crazy if we were in the same room all the time. This form of […]

    Pingback by A friend online is a friend indeed | Richard Hartley — October 6, 2011 #

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