I came to the USA in 1995 on a student visa and with $200 cash in my pocket. I came to Wooster, Ohio – a small midwestern college town – for my undergrad studies. My first job was washing dishes in the college cafeteria and for that I earned approximately $5/hr. By US laws I was allowed to work maximum 20 hours/week and I don’t think there was ever a week when I did not work 20 hours. Hence I earned ~$100/week for all my non-tuition/non-room expenses.
I am thinking of this today because back in 1995 I paid approximately $3/minute to call Pakistan from my dorm room. We had to use AT&T that the college had contracted with and could not use any calling cards etc as well. Given my meager earnings I used to talk to my parents and siblings in Pakistan two times a month for approximately 10 minutes each. You can imagine how ~$60/mth for phone bill seemed like a significant dent in my post-tax pay check. Honestly, it was depressing. I would barely explain to my mom what new and amazing stuff I saw in the USA in a few minutes, while she tried to urge me to eat better and write more often. She would do the job of narrating to my dad offline all I said to her. I think I only got to speak to him once or twice during my first year since my mom lovingly hogged the limited phone time. My dad had to make do with my letters, and emails that I would sometimes send to a friend’s house who would print and give to my parents (my parents did not have such a thing called email). My parents eventually even bought a fax machine so my letters could become more real-time but I wasn’t able to find fax machines easily as a student.
15 years fast forward and the world has changed so much technology-wise. Approximately 10 days ago or so I heard about AOL.com/AV. That weekend I had a simultaneous video chat with my parents in Pakistan, my brother in Dubai, my sister in Chicago and my family in Boston. That is 4 different locations around the globe seeing each other simultaneously and chatting. My parents were able to see their three grand children at the same time for the first time ever! They were overjoyed and could not thank me enough for finding the site. I must thank aol.com/av for making my parents so happy.
And then today! My wife allowed me to borrow her iphone while I took our two children out for a walk in a public park near our house. She had the skype app installed and I tried using it to call my parents. And it worked! We video-chatted while my children played in the park, ran through sprinklers, and we walked along the River Charles. My parents have not been able to get visas to come visit me in the USA. They saw me walking in the city I have called home for 13 years of my life. They watched my daughter learn how to balance on a scooter and my son sit on a grass patch while we picnicked. They were quite enthused to see Duckboats and a group of Segway riders that were probably on a Museum of Science sponsored trip.
How freaking wonderful is this! Even as an avid technology user I am blown away! Thank you technology and technologists behind them. AV, Skype, Fring, Tango etc: you rock! Thank you for making this world an amazingly small place for those of us who truly consider ourselves to be global citizens.