by Giorgio Scherrer
“The green light’s looking at you, kid.”
“Here’s looking at you, kid”, Humphrey Bogart famously told Ingrid Bergmann in Casablanca, and even if you haven’t seen the movie (shame on you), one thing’s clear from that line: it was shot in the pre-Skype era.
Innocent and foolish as they are, here’s what today’s (few) non-Skypers think of Skype: It’s like a phone, but with a camera – instead of just hearing, you can even see each other. It’s so easy to use, even my grandma can do it. Plus it’s free. And if I ever go abroad for an extended period I’m sure as hell going to use it, feel totally as if I’m at home, and everything will be fine.
That is, at least, what I naively told myself before coming to Oxford from Switzerland. I was wrong. Seeing your family, friends and home as if they were featuring in one of those really bad YouTube videos that we all watch without knowing why, and it sometimes feels like watching a homemade parody of your own life. The image is lagging, stumbling and freezing at the oddest possible moments, and while that is funny the first few times, you soon find yourself longing for some flesh and blood in those pixelated parts of your life.
And, coming from a partly Italian family, what’s even more frustrating is that only one person can speak at a time (it cannot record and broadcast simultaneously), and seriously, what kind of conversation is that? Also, dramatic hand gestures (an essential part of Italian communication, in case you have never seen a Mafia movie) look so depressingly unimpressive over Skype.
“Dramatic hand gestures look so depressingly unimpressive over Skype.”
Although that might also just be because you have to watch a weird little version of yourself on the screen all the time, which is just annoying. Imagine if people constantly carried little mirrors in their bags to look at themselves or peeked into every darkened window they passed to see their reflection – crazy, right?
The worst part, though, is the one about the eyes. This is where it gets existential. On Skype, instead of looking into each other’s eyes directly you will find yourself looking at one of two things: either an image of your Skype-partner gazing slightly downwards in the direction of your keyboard, or at the green light at the top of your screen. It’s simple physics: for where your partner’s picture appears – the screen – is not where your picture is being recorded. You need to take turns looking at your computer’s camera to get a glimpse into someone else’s eyes.
Imagine that: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergmann discussing love, war, and their time in Paris without eye-contact via Skype. That’s hardly the beginning of a wonderful love story.