QotD: It’s Better To Give

What's the best present you gave this year?

I gave an iSight to my mom. I got the idea from the Mark Morford column below.

The Best Gizmo You Don't Have
See parents. Check on pets. Stare into a lover's eyes. Or up her dress. Buy one now
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, October 7, 2005

This much we know: There are only a finite number of breaths left in your life. There are only a finite number of times you will have sex in an elevator and a finite number of times you will drink $200 bottles of wine and a finite number of times you will scream your orgasmic joys and endure horrible Texas presidents and eat raw oysters and buy $250 designer jeans and suck down too much Halloween candy and howl at the moon. And so on.

And there are, if you've been around more than a few decades and your parents are still living and if they happen to live in an entirely different city, there are only a finite number of times you will get to see your parents before they depart this earthly plane for the next one. It's true.

I know, it's a cheerless and unpleasant truism most of us do not — unless your parents are nightmare demon spawn and you won't be all that despondent when they're no longer around to give you reason to go to therapy — want to think much about it. But it's true. It's the way it is. Death races toward us like a black Aston Martin Vanquish, smooth and devious and inevitable.

But there are, of course, ways to adapt. To mollify. There are now, thanks to modern technology, methods by which we can make the notion that your older family members will soon be joining the feathered choir just a little bit easier to swallow. Check it:

I have recently purchased my parents a gift. It is the best gift I have ever given them, ever, and that includes the egg cooker and the "Avengers" DVD collection and the scale-model sailboat. After converting my entire family over to Apple gear years ago, and since I myself use Apple's instant messenger client, iChat, well, one day it finally hit me like a long overdue brick to the skull of obviousness. Oh my God. They need an iSight, Apple's insanely simple, beautifully designed, plug-and-play Web camera. I'll get one too, I thought, and we'll be able to see each other whenever we want and it will be heartwarming and touching and fun, and man oh man what a good and thoughtful kid I am.

Oh my God, how right I was. What a difference this thing makes. The parents are thrilled. Amazed. I couldn't have bought them a better gift had it been front-row tickets to see Neil Diamond on the moon. They are now within visual range, whenever they feel like it and whenever I feel like it and they are right there, on screen, waving hello, making eye contact, laughing and looking cute. Screw the telephone. This is how it should be.

I can show them my girlfriend's parrot. They can joke about how I haven't shaved in a week. I can aim the camera through my window and show them my new car and then turn the camera just to the right and show them the thick tongue of San Francisco fog rolling in from the ocean. I can see my sisters when they visit the folks (they all live in Seattle). They can introduce me to casual dinner-party guests. I can see my mom's new haircut. Etc.

I can, in short, defy time, flout the cold distance between us. And no, they don't nag me to log on all the time. But I'm more than happy to do it, whenever they want. What price family? What price way-cool gizmo to encourage same? Technology's progress may be eating us alive, but at least some of it seems to do the exact opposite.

I do not know why this is not touted more highly. I do not know why the world is not screaming for these gorgeous little appliances as the savior of a million relationships and a godsend for phone sex and a blessing on all families worldwide, not to mention small-business owners who can hold meetings with clients calling from anywhere in the nation. Do millions of people use these things already and I just don't know about it? Maybe. But it sure isn't part of the mainstream culture.

My S.O. and I met this fabulous gay couple in Cabo San Lucas last year, two middle-aged men who had adopted a beautiful, happy little girl named Maeve. The three of them lived in New York. The grandmother lived in Las Vegas. None of them had a ton of money. This trip to Cabo was the first time the grandmother had ever met three-year-old Maeve in person. But they both had iSight cameras. The girl knew her grandmother's voice, her face, her personality. They already had a connection. "The best 140 bucks we ever spent," the guys told me, talking about how the cameras had changed their lives. The grandmother was ecstatic.

There has not been a ton of fanfare around the iSight. No massive product rollout like the iPod or iPod nano or even the Mac Mini. Hell, you can't even easily find the iSight on Apple's online store (maybe they're redesigning the thing?). I know, it's not racy and sexy and culturally hip. It's not a TiVo and it's not a Prius and it's not a Blackberry and it's not a RAZR, and it's not any of the thousand other gadgets right now despoiling the planet and titillating the skulls of techheads on Engadget.com. To which I say: Whatever.

I know, furthermore, that basic video-conferencing gear has been around for years. I know cheapy webcams have been churning out grainy cheeseball dorm-room soft-core porn since the mid '90s. But that jittery, inferior, one-way crap doesn't really count. This is something different. This is, of course, the finest and easiest and best-designed consumer webcam on the market. You gotta have a fast Mac and a fast Net connection and you gotta run iChat or AOL's Instant Messenger to use it, but aside from that, it's all plug-and-play genius. No manual, no setup, no techie jargon. Plug it in straight out of the box and boom, it's on. It's got a built-in microphone. Best of all, it's not a long-distance phone call. You don't pay a dime for the time you're connected.

I shall get one for my sisters and my girlfriend and the perfect dog I haven't found yet. I shall encourage old friends to connect, reacquaint. After all, what price human connection? What price eye contact, laughter, checking your mom's haircut? What price flouting of death? Right now, only about 140 bucks. Bargain.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Schomer
    Dec 25, 2006 @ 23:26:00

    A few years ago, I sent video camera to everyone in my family, so we could video conference. Problem was, they all use Windows, so it didn't work. No surprise. Big waste of effort, trying to get it working.Last year, I sent my mother an iSight, along with a last generation Powerbook I was no longer using. Best thing I ever did, for three reasons… (1) My mother is able to use the Mac much easier than Windows – which means she is now on the computer a lot, having fun, (2) iChat just plain worked, with no tweaking at all, and (3) she gets to see and talk to her grandchildren on a regular basis (not just see photos I post online periodically.It's a huge difference, and I couldn't agree more. Everyone needs a Mac with iChat.

    Reply

  2. leave luck to heaven
    Dec 26, 2006 @ 08:11:00

    OMG use blockquote for the story excerpt — i'm stuck on windows with crap fonts and no native font anti-aliasing. (don't say "it's your fault for using windows" like you're apt to because this is the only laptop i have with WWAN). ;Palso, i think your italics are spilling over into the rest of your entry which i gave up reading about 1/4 in.

    Reply

  3. leave luck to heaven
    Dec 26, 2006 @ 08:12:00

    PS happy holidays!

    Reply

  4. Timmy!
    Dec 26, 2006 @ 19:16:00

    I gave her a Mac Cube last year. She loves it. It's perfect for email and itunes and surfing. And hopefully it will be adequate for ichat. I will find out this week!

    Reply

  5. Kimmers
    Dec 28, 2006 @ 17:41:00

    Sounds fantastic. Do both sides have to have a Mac and high-speed connection? My Mom and my in-laws both are so computer illiterate – barely can turn on a computer without having a meltdown. It's a wonder how either computer hasn't wound up in the dumpster!

    Reply

  6. Timmy!
    Dec 28, 2006 @ 19:40:00

    Both sides need a high speed connection, otherwise you are gonna get a frame rate of 1 per 2 seconds, which isn't really video, it's more like a clunky slideshow. it may not even work at that bandwidth. My mom isn't computer literate at all, so she really loves her Mac which works without any complication. And the step dad has finally made the transition from film to digital photos, which he plays with in iPhoto. Instead of developing pictures and mailing them out, now he emails them. As someone who takes at least half a dozen pictures every day, this is a paradigm shift for him.

    Reply

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