My computer desktop is a bit like my handbag: it’s full of things I either don’t need or don’t use, it looks untidy, and I’m not quite sure where a lot of the stuff has come from. Looking at my desktop now, I can see, for example, a programme called ‘Easy Network Manager’ (no idea what that is), one called ‘DivX Movies’ (never used it), and a Microsoft Word document called ‘romeo_and_juliet’ (probably something I wrote at university and accidentally saved onto my desktop rather than somewhere more logical). Mixed up with all the rubbish, there are, however, one or two very important programmes – programmes which I feel even have a central role in my life. To go back to my handbag, these programmes would be the equivalent of my house keys and purse. They are the things which I use on a daily basis, and which I would be most upset about losing. One of the programmes I am talking about is Skype. The big, friendly ‘S’ has sat quietly at the bottom of my desktop since around 2009. And I am quite certain that it has changed my life.
I first realised the importance of Skype when I was in my third year of university. I had just moved to Germany for my ‘year abroad’, and it was my first long period of time outside the UK. About a week after I had arrived, I received a text message from one of my best friends saying that she was very upset and needed to talk to me. I remember rushing out of my flat with a 20 euro note trying to find a shop that would change it into coins so that I could call her from a payphone. When I finally had the coins, I still only managed to speak to her for around fifteen minutes. Payphones are expensive! Now that I have Skype, I no longer experience situations like that. I still live in Germany, and I know that I can talk to my family and friends whenever I need to, for as long as I want, for free. It’s extremely reassuring.
It seems to me that Skype is a bit of an underdog in the world of technology. It’s pretty normal to talk about Facebook, Twitter and Google, but you don’t tend to hear people on the bus talking about ‘that amazing conversation’ they had on Skype, or how Skype ‘affects the way we interact socially’ with our fellow humans. Probably this is because Skype is more of a private place than a public one: we don’t use it to show off or to follow celebrities, we use it to stay in touch with our loved ones.
Skype has also become a useful tool in the work place. Sometimes it is used for interviews – especially when companies are recruiting internationally, or when it would be very expensive for the candidate to travel for the interview. It can also be used for video conferences or even within offices themselves instead of regular telephones with extension numbers. This is particularly the case for younger, ‘trendier’ companies – the kind of offices who want to come across modern, flexible, approachable.
And there are, of course, the long-distance relationships. When I asked a colleague recently how she managed to stay in touch with her Mexican boyfriend when she moved back to Germany, she replied simply: 'Skype!' And now they are married! There are certainly countless similar stories throughout the world of couples who have managed to stay together because of this programme. It’s probably been more successful than an internet dating site!
I can genuinely say that I would probably still be living in the UK if I did not have Skype. That white ‘S’ on the light blue, blobby-looking background has given me the freedom to live far away from my family and some of my friends because I know I can see their lovely faces and hear their voices almost any time. Whether it’s showing my parents around my new flat, looking at a friend’s latest hairstyle, or meeting my sister’s flatmates, Skype lets me into the lives and homes of the people I love. Just like my keys.
What's the most important icon on your computer desktop?
Do you use Skype? Do you think it's important?