Skype is the Devil.
For those of you living happily in the 20th century, let me explain: Skype is a little piece of software that allows computer users to make free "phone-like" calls over the internet to anywhere in the world.
Founded in 2003 by the people who created (and then sold) the demonized file sharing site KaZaA, Skype is really a kind of peer-to-peer networking system that allows for large file shares but is also billed as a computer to computer voice and image telephony service.
Got that? No? Just read on.
I first heard of Skype when I sold a photograph to a company that makes REALLY EXPENSIVE strollers in New Zealand, and they wanted me to send them a large file; too large for regular e-mail.
The lovely woman who made sure a tidy sum of U.S. money was wired to my bank account, also walked me through the downloading and uploading process of Skype.
For that little transaction the heavens opened.
But a few months later, my mother-in-law, who is spending a year in Europe, has discovered what I believe is the darker side of the free service: Video conferencing.
Oh, it sounded SOOOOOO perfect.
All we had to do was download the software and call each other online. We could bask in the glow of the computer's time-lapse imagery for the bargain price of free instead of paying gobs of money to have a few measly little minutes saying "hello, how's things, everyone's fine."
Of course there are glitches.
I'd already downloaded the software months ago, so I was feeling technically superior. The Napoleon complex wore off post haste, however, when I learned the squirrel that powers my laptop from its tiny little wheel in the hard drive carried off the little blue Skype icon and presumably fed it to its young.
Three hours later, I've downloaded the software twice and have found and lost all the screen names of all my newly membered Skype family members at least three times.
Eventually I get to the part where my computer was enabled to call the far-flung members of our family but the list tells me none of my people are online.
So I wait, staring at the computer screen, hoping one of the faint blue dots will darken.
Can you hear the drumming fingers? No?
Well believe me. I was drumming them to stubs.
"I can't believe we are going to have to CALL them to tell them to turn on their computers so we can CALL them," I complain to the husband.
So he does his best squirrel wrangling and e-mail slinging and in no time we're back online.
There we are, the four of us, sitting on top of each other in front of the laptop.
"Mom! Champ is pulling my hair!"
"That's nothing," I one-up her, "he just head-butted me."
Still no granny.
"She was here," my husband says, wondering if the squirrel, angered by our demands upon him, has turned into a harbinger of revenge.
But a few mouse clicks and several e-mails later and we really are ready to go.
Well almost. It seems grandma has trouble keeping her video feed on, and our computer keeps shutting off.
Ittybit - book in hand ready to read to her grandma all about the "Three Little Pigs" - is about to melt down.
"I'm NEVEREVERNEVEREVER NEVER going to be able to read to grandma EVER AGAIN!!!! AAAAAAA-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRR GGGGGGG AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHTTTTT."
The husband tries to save the day, walking his mom through the minefield of voice over internet protocol as I try to distract Ittybit from her tirade and juggle the Champ who's getting antsy for his midmorning snack. He swivels the computer in my direction just as I try to get the boy latched on ... "Ahem. Thanks for that."
He swings it back as Ittybit starts reciting her book with all the flair of a Shakespearian actor.
" ... And I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down. ... and then he gobbled up the pig."
"Oh, dear. You have one of the OLD books, where the pig gets eaten?" Granny says in mild shock.
And it occurs to me that while getting to see her grand kids hop about on the couch from "across the pond" is one thing, getting to see the clownshow behind the scenes - including me with my sweatshirt ever-so-fashionably tucked into my bra - is quite another.