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.
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.