Long distance friendships

I woke up this morning to find an email from one of my best childhood friends – talk about a pleasant surprise! We last made contact about ten years ago, so it was great to hear from him. It got me thinking about how people maintain long-distance friendships.

When I first came to Japan on a homestay, my great Scottish aunt asked me to track down her pen-pal, Kubo Hide-san, who she had written to for forty years before the letters dried up. In her nineties, she had no idea whether Hide-san was even alive, so it was a really special moment for me when I found her living in Kyoto at the grand old age of 96. I made the trip from Nagoya and was invited into her home for tea and a chat. Her English was remarkably good so we traded stories about my great aunt. After that they started to write to each other again until my great aunt sadly died a few years later.

Snail mail was how I first kept in touch with my parents after moving to Japan. It cost a fortune to call England at that time, so letters were our main means of communication. Even after I got online in 1998, it was another couple of years before my parents did the same. So since 2000, email has brought us a bit closer. Last year however I stumbled across Skype and can now pick up the microphone to call them through the computer whenever I like for just a few pennies a minute. My mum and dad are yet to get broadband but I’m sure in the next year or two we’ll be video conferencing for free.

At the rate technology is improving, I wouldn’t be surprised if video conferencing really takes off soon. I imagine a time when you can sit down for dinner with someone on the other side of the world! Just turn on that 60′ plasma TV and talk, eat or drink with your family or friends just as if they were in the room with you! It would certainly bring people closer together.

If only I could have set up a video conference for my great aunt and Hide-san!


After writing this post, I received an email from SightSpeed:

We represent SightSpeed and have found that other educators are taking to using video conferencing both in their classrooms and personally coming to the same conclusions you are reaching. The ability as you post implies to cross great geographic divides and to stay in touch via the Internet is changing the way we all communicate. Video is clearly the next wave.

I’ve already signed up (it’s free) and am just waiting for my webcam to arrive before I give it a go. The customer support has been friendly and fast, and the software itself looks really good – I’m particularly pleased to see it available in Japanese, not just English. In fact, it currently supports ten different languages. Naturally, I’m starting to think that I may be teaching from home via the internet in the not-too-distant future! Take a look at SightSpeed for yourself at http://www.sightspeed.com.

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!