Transcontinental iChat Travels

Thanks to Janet Hill, whom I met at the MacMania 4.5 geek cruise last year, and who works for Apple in education, I just had the most awesome iChat session ever: a trans-atlantic video chat.

A few weeks ago, Janet and I had already tried to initiate a video chat, but the Gods of the Firewall were against us. So when Janet showed up in my iChat roster today, I pinged her to suggest another try, and, lo!, the Gods of the Firewall were merciful this time. Turns out, Janet was visiting a school in a rural Iowa town called Sidney, showing off Apple technology to Greg, the school principal.

Talking to Janet and Greg alone was pretty awesome, but the whole thing took an unreal turn when Janet, thanks to WLAN, took her laptop and, thus, me to a class room. After a few long-distance chats with people “we” ran into in the hallway, I got to talk to a number of kids in class. Answering a few questions about Germany (it never ceases to amaze me that the first association with Germany that comes to many people’s minds are our beloved no-speed-holds-barred Autobahns!), and asking them what their town was like, etc. Pretty unspectacular topics, but a very spectacular means of talking about them.

Great Technology Becomes Transparent When You Use It

I’m still so stumped by this whole thing that I just have to remind myself what I just experienced: I was video-chatting with people who live some 4,500 miles from my place, and who have a totally different background, life history, and way of living. And yet, thanks to technology That Just Works, we were able to connect, both literally and figuratively.

This video chat provided the perfect example for the main characteristic of truly great technology: the technology becomes completely transparent when you use it! While talking to the kids in Iowa, I totally forgot about the technical interface — i.e., my Mac, OS X, the iChat app — that was between us. It was as if the technology had simply dissolved into thin air, and what remained was the essence of a conversation between humans. The conversations, the kids’ faces, and that feeling of “wow, this can’t be real”. But it was real, because a handful of passionate, talented developers had a great idea and turned it into a product.

In a way, this experience nicely complements the little story about my new phone support benchmark: it raised the bar for what I expect technology to achieve, and I am sure I will be the more disappointed with average tech products for it. And yet it is proof-positive that there are some folks out there who do get “it”.

It’s them who will get my future attention, endorsement, and, alas, my money.

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