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Speak up, you're online!

E-mail and instant messaging are out. What's in is voice chat


"I went crazy with worry when the kids did not come home at their usual time. They had spent almost an hour-and-a-half at their friend's place." — Anjana sitting in a crowded web café in the city.

"Oh! Cheer up dear. It's part of their growing-up process." — Rajkumar, her husband, speaking from his home in the U.S.

THIS CONVERSATION is just an example of how infotech is touching more and more lives each day. Even a couple of years ago, writing to a dear one who stayed abroad meant buying pads of onion paper and penning everything you wanted to say in coloured inks.

It did not matter that it took days, if not weeks, to cross the metaphorical ezhu kadal and reach the recipient.

Later, telephonic conversation provided a break from the tedious process of letter writing. But, it was expensive.

Next came e-mail and instant text messenger services. Voice chat, which makes speaking to anyone anywhere in the world seem so easy, has now arrived in a big way. It does away with costly telephone charges and eschews the by-now stale e-mail.

Let's catch up with Anjana again. A harried working woman, she is naturally concerned about her teenaged sons, who are at a vulnerable age.

So, she puts on the earphones, plugs in the voice cord and continues talking about her boys, because only her husband's voice, transcending geographical boundaries and filtering into her earphones, can comfort her.

"It makes a lot of difference when someone you love comforts you from wherever he/she is. Nowadays, I talk with my husband regularly over the Net, which is cheaper than making an ISD call. For two hours, I spend less than Rs. 50 here," she says.

Visit any of the cyber cafes in the city and most are peopled by those interacting with family members living abroad.

Retired grandparents have mastered the technology that allows them to interact with their children.

Suddenly, they find their lives enriched, even if their arthritic fingers have a problem navigating the sensitive keyboard or in adjusting the earphones, thanks to the technology wave.

"Net telephony is offered at a price affordable to middle class families, who have a large number of relatives and friends abroad," says 55-year-old Seshadri, whose two children live in the United States.

"Using a Web camera, I can even see my daughter's new hairstyle," he adds.

For thousands of ordinary Indian citizens, the Internet is a relatively cheap (cyber cafes typically charge Rs. 20-30 for an hour) means of empowering themselves in ways they have never imagined.

The Net is also a boon for lovelorn hearts. Arun Kumar, an engineering student, found a girlfriend in the U.S. through this. "Now, there are calls just to hear her say `hi'. The personal touch brightens up my day," he adds.

Some even conduct online technical classes. Real-time conversation thrills no end. Sometimes, that crucial conversation can make all the difference in one's life. So, what are you waiting for?

K. JESHI

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