Just before the lockdown we were advised (here) to avoid unnecessary contact, which people duly ignored. Except me. I said to Age UK that I was happy to do the calls [the voluntary work I do each week is calls to about 10 clients, any subjects, just to help combat lonliness], but I wanted to do them from home rather than from their office. A phone is a phone is a phone, after all.
When the lockdown came, we embarked on reassurance calls, too, specifically as a result of the crisis. Do you have groceries? Do you have meds? in particular. So, my calls jumped to 20 per week. In an email to someone, I jokily said that rather than just picking up the phone, I should put the computer to work and make use of my always-on internet connection.
Afterwards I thought about it more seriously. Why not? So I started looking for a program to do it.
The first link I hit told me I could use Gmail. Great, I don’t really use Gmail, but I have an account, so I logged on. Sure enough, I could place a call but when I tried calling my wife (on her mobile, in the next room) she couldn’t hear me.
So I assumed that the microphone on the PC was not really clear enough, and ordered a headset off eBay. That’s a good idea anyway, because it allows me to make calls handsfree, useful when only one arm works since it allows me to type, if I need to write something down.
That headset finally arrived Saturday. Just an unbranded one – I figured that a brand like Logitech will just take an unbranded Chinese item and stamp its name, so didn’t see the point in paying more (a Logitech headset was 50% more). So I plugged this thing in and … same result! No can hear me.
I fiddled with the settings for a while. But Audacity could hear me just fine. Microsoft’s voice control software could hear me just fine. But my wife couldn’t when I tried to call her through gmail.
So I decided to explore other programs. Microsoft bought Skype a few years back and there it was, already installed on the PC. So I set it up. Hey presto, I was making calls within minutes! I had to take out a cheap subscription, just to be able to call old-fashioned landlines, but it should work out cheaper than just using my house phone.
I’m still not too familiar with the Microsoft flavour of Skype. Last time I remember it was years ago, when communication through the computer was a new thing (and poor quality). I thought I got a phone number, so internet geeks across the world could call and say Hi, but it looks like I need to pay extra for that. Hmmmm…. Microsoft Marketing at work, no doubt. No matter, I only really need the calls to go one way, anyway.
As it happens, I can claim any of my call expenses back from the charity, so I didn’t really need to do any of this, but I’m sure they have better things to spend their money on than my phone bill, so it makes sense if I can minimise everything. And I can now listen to posts without disturbing anyone else!