Ring Ring...

Although the Internet offers wonderful possibilities for staying in touch, there is no substitute for the human voice. Emoticons just don't always do the trick, and it's hard to get irony/sarcasm across through words on a page. There's just something warm and fuzzy about hearing laughter, varying tones, softness, and depth.

When the person you are trying to connect with is half a world away, staying close is hard to do. Fortunately, Skype and popular chat programs like Google Chat allow people to hear as well as see each other, which makes a world of difference--no more accidentally talking over each other on the phone, because we can rely on non-verbal cues to know whose turn it is to speak. But what happens when a) one person doesn't use a computer, or b) an Internet connection isn't available?

Yes, the latter is an actual possibility even today. There ARE places in this world where an Internet connection is hard to come by, or doesn't come cheap, or doesn't come fast enough for video. So what happens then?

Dialing international long-distance through the landline can be prohibitively expensive. Phone cards can cut down on the costs, and certain other third-party phone companies charge reduced rates when you dial their prefix before dialing the international phonen number. With the use of these services, the cost of calling countries with generally good telecommunications networks is in the range of pennies a minute. However, there are situations where some less-popular calling destinations are still quite expensive to reach through these methods.

This is precisely what happened to me a few months ago. I had to turn to the Internet for Voice over IP (VoIP) options, whereby the calls are routed through the Internet. Skype did allow me to reach a landline phone via the web, but the rate was still quite high. I dug around to find a few more VoIP phone services for the lowest rate of my calling destination. Although there are quite a number of them out there (i.e. Jajah), I ultimately chose Jaxtr because, well, it was the cheapest for where I wanted to call. The added bonus is that I don't need a computer to make my VoIP calls--I can get through by calling a local number (even on my cell phone), dialing in the international number, and then chat away. In order to get the lowest rate, I had to subscribe to their monthly plan (which was 35% cheaper than their non-subscription rate). It didn't matter much to me because the savings was quite substantial, and because I use up all of the minutes I bought anyway.

Fortunately, the person on the other end of the line now has a reliaible Internet connection at home--still not as fast as the standard U.S. DSL connection, but it's good enough for Skype, so I get to cancel my subscription and save a ton of money. Nonetheless, the experience was a valuable one. It opened my eyes to the various options, and it also makes me appreciate the technology that I do have access to every day.

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