Technology is awesome when it works, but can really ruin your day when it doesn’t.
I was so proud of myself and my creativity for my Mother’s Day present to my mom this year. Most of my regular readers know that my parents live in Tanzania, so unfortunately I can’t take her out to lunch or buy her flowers. The distance means that we have to get a little creative with gifts. If you plan far enough in advance, you can normally find someone traveling from the U.S. to Tanzania who can carry a care package. Otherwise, we go on big shopping sprees when we actually see each other about once a year to make up for all the ungifted holidays.
So for Mother’s Day, I came up with a thoughtful gift for my mom – a video chat. It doesn’t seem like much, but my mother frequently comments on the fact that she gets to “see” my sister but never gets to “see” me because I don’t have a Webcam. So I borrowed one for the weekend and planned to Skype my mom on Sunday as a surprise. I could almost hear the surprise and excitement in her voice as she walked into the office to see I was calling and then she’d see me pop up on the screen.
Tanzania is in the midst of laying the groundwork for a country-wide fiber optic network. While I was in Tanzania in December, driving across the country from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza, we passed hundreds of people digging ditches by hand for the soon-to-come cable. And just this week, a new under sea fiber optic cable was being tested off the coast of Tanzania, which resulted in my parents losing their Internet service for almost a week. At least that was the reason they were given when they inquired about the outage.
And while we’re all excited about the progress, since their connection speeds when things are working has been much faster than it was when they lived in the U.S., it’s still disappointing when it keeps us from talking to each other.
We have an agreement that we never actually make a phone call to each other unless it’s an emergency since it is so expensive. Instead, we call each other on Skype. It’s free or extremely cheap which means we can talk as much as we’d like. But if the Internet is out in Tanzania, mom will normally send a text message to let me know not to expect a call on Sundays, our designated talk day. I could tell that her text message yesterday was tinged with sadness, as was my reply.
As I drove through my neighborhood yesterday on the way to the store, it was easy to feel sorry for myself, seeing all the other families gathered for cookouts and driveways packed with cars.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much technology has changed how I talk to my mom, and that one day of broken technology is still infinitely better than it used to be.
Last week, Tara was blogging about things she couldn’t live without and asked for my suggestions. My immediate response was the Internet, and it had nothing to do with GPS, Facebook or eBay; and everything to do with long-distance relationships.
When I was 13, I went off to school in Kenya while the rest of my family moved to Tanzania. That meant there was an international border and about a 12 hour drive between us. Our communication consisted of a short phone call each Saturday, if the unreliable landlines were actually working. There was no Internet those first few years, and it was even a while before we had basic dial-up e-mail access. And if something happened and the power was off or the phone lines were down, which happened extremely often, you had no way to notify the person waiting on the end of the phone. So that meant there were a lot of disappointed Saturdays.
Now I call my mom while I’m at the grocery store because I can’t remember what’s in her sweet and sour chicken, or I text my dad to see what kind of oil I should get in my car. And occasionally we’ll get on a roll and spend hours talking on Sunday afternoons. My parents are more accessible than ever before and instead of being one country away, we’re on different continents now. It’s cheap, it’s accessible and, most days, it’s reliable.
So my pity has turned to thankfulness. My mom sent an e-mail this morning saying things seem to be up and running, which means we can have a nice belated chat as I get ready for bed and as mom is waking up in the morning.
Even one day late, she’s still the best mom ever.
Posted under Holiday, Web/Tech
This post was written by jjarvis on May 10, 2010