Does Skype live up to the hype?

In his debut blog post, Sportsnet host Ian Mendes writes about why video conferencing with your kids when you’re on the road isn’t all cookies and jammies

Ian Mendes 0

Credit: Planetgordon.com

There is a television commercial that romanticizes the notion of video conferencing with your children.
It’s a poignant scene, where a father and son share their nightly routine of dunking Oreo cookies into milk. Only when the camera pulls back, does it reveal that the father is getting ready for the work day in a hotel room in Asia. His eight-year-old son is back at home — wearing his jammies — and getting ready to be tucked into bed.

This is the image that the people at Skype would love to have you believe. No matter where you are in the world, you can always stay connected to your children.

But as a father who is constantly on the road, let me tell you one thing I’ve learned: It absolutely sucks to try and video conference with your children.

For starters, there is never a good time to try and Skype with the kids. While my mornings are usually fairly leisurely on the road covering different sporting events, it’s a gong show for my wife to get the kids ready for school. So while she’s packing a lunch and trying to cram some toast into our kids’ mouths for breakfast, she doesn’t have the slightest motivation to fire up a video chat with me.

“Hey girls, look at Daddy in his pajamas at 8:10 in the morning in Philadelphia. He’s got nothing to do this morning. Isn’t that nice?”

(When you Skype while on the road, you often open yourself up to criticism from your spouse because they can see you. Not many wives who are trying to scrape Nutella off their own clothes enjoy the sight of their husbands in a luxury hotel wearing pajamas.)

Of course, after-school video chats present their own problems as well. Monday nights are a write-off because our youngest daughter has dance class and our older one is in Brownies. Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually days where I’m broadcasting games, so my late afternoons and evenings are tied up. Ironically, maybe the Oreo commercial was accurate — one party needs to be in Asia for the timing to work out for a Skype chat. 

We usually have a small window on Wednesdays, maybe between 4:15 – 5:40 p.m. where we can realistically pull off a video chat. 

And that’s where the technical problems come into play.

Yes, our technology has evolved to the point where we can make our beer cans turn blue to let us know when they’re ready to be consumed. But the technical wizards have still not mastered the art of video calling. The fantasy world of The Jetsons — where everybody was available for a glitch-free video chat — is not yet reality.

The biggest problem is that the connection is never good. I’m always at the mercy of the internet speed at my hotel. The network is usually so bogged down, that I’m pretty sure that everyone else in the hotel is surfing adult websites at the exact moment I’m trying to Skype.

If the audio is clean during our Skype chat, that means the video has to freeze every six seconds. If the video feed is clean, then most of the audio sounds garbled — as if Charlie Brown’s teacher was speaking with a mouth full of marbles.

I realize Skype is a free service and you basically get what you pay for. But about 85% of our Skype video chats end with one of us just saying, “Fine – let’s just talk on the phone.” (Except, it sounds more like “ine — let’s sock the trombone.”)

And in the rare instance when we actually get a clean Skype feed, the kids barely show any enthusiasm anymore. Perhaps it’s because I’m on television, but my children have become de-sensitized to seeing me talking on a screen. They probably think I’m going to start blabbering on about why the Ottawa Senators power play is struggling.  
               
When they we first started Skyping a couple of years ago, they used to be fascinated to see my hotel room on their computer screen.  

“Dad, why do you have 14 pillows on your bed?” they would ask in amazement.

They seemed captivated by every detail of the room. The colour of the bedspread, the size of my television — nothing escaped them. But now they realize that every hotel room is basically the same; there’s a bed, a television and a washroom. So after a while, the “Amazing Tour of Daddy’s Hotel Room” loses its lustre.

Often, the kids stay to say hello to me for 90 seconds and then they run back to the family room, where an episode of Phineas and Ferb has been so rudely interrupted by dad’s choppy video chat. If we didn’t have a PVR — with the ability to pause live television — I wonder if they would come to the computer at all.

When we wrap up a video call, sometimes our kids will come back to the screen to blow some kisses to me. But often, I just get a stuffed animal waving his arm goodbye, while their eyes stay glued to the television screen. There is no magical dunking of Oreos, because the practical side of me refuses to pay $11 for a glass of room service milk.

We simply end the video call and promise to just talk on the phone tomorrow.

How do you stay in touch with your kids when you’re away?

Photo by Planetgordon.com via Flickr

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