I enjoyed two global Skype experiences today. The first, with a colleague in Botswana, concerned the recent accomplishments in technology and fundraising at Maru-a-Pula School. The degree of immediacy attainable in a 30-minute Skype call had immense value for me, much more vivid and interactive than a dozen newsletters and third-person email accounts. I would like to make this a regular occurrence if more people there are willing to spend the time online with me and can pull it off technologically. We started with video, which was a real treat, but downgraded to audio when the bandwidth had difficulty supporting both without breaking up. I still can’t believe that I introduced the school to email thirteen short years ago, and now we can practically hold a video chat.
Lucky me, I got to have a second Skype call today, this time with Spencer, who is conducting an exploratory trip to Guatemala. After some difficulty finding a decent Internet connection, Spencer and I had a short voice chat via Skype. Unlike the Botswana experience, we didn’t even try video, because the quality of audio was shaky enough. Nonetheless, it was remarkable that a small city like Chajul, Guatemala (pop. 11,000) would have enough Internet connectivity to make a Skype voice call possible.
One interesting result of today’s conversation was that Spencer figured that we should not attempt a conversation between kids in Chajul and Catlin Gabel without video. It would not have the same impact without the visual, Spencer figured. This caught me by surprise, but in retrospect, it makes perfect sense. What if we went to the trouble of gathering two groups of kids in these two locationsm, and then they could not understand a word of what the others were saying? Without the visual, it would all hinge on auditory comprehension. On the positive side, Spencer went equipped with all sorts of digital gear, and he interviewed a number of people on video to bring back to school with him. Next time, we may try a cellular modem if the airtime charges are not too high and it will support the video that we want to transmit. Cellular phone access was easy to come by, but this was with an American cell phone that will likely cost a lot to use down there.
Lots of potential here — we’re pretty excited. I know a lot of other people have been down this road before, but it’s cool to experience the immediacy of global contact for the first time and think of what impact it could have on kids who are stuck here or lucky enough to be planning or have just returned from a trip abroad.