A few weeks ago my grandpa’s niece Brenda asked if I’d coordinate a Skype call with my grandpa review some old family photos. My grandparents didn’t have Internet yet so I picked up my grandpa and we drove to my parent’s house nearby. I gave Grandpa a blanket and cranked the heat as I set up my MacBook and an external Bluetooth speaker.
When Grandpa was a kid he came down with Scarlet fever just before Christmas. Scarlet fever was the leading cause of death of children in the 20th century and while Grandpa survived the disease, he experienced significant hearing loss. My great grandmother wanted Grandpa to experience Christmas and kept the tree up until the end of March. When he got home the floor was covered with needles.
People with hearing disabilities often rely on reading lips and other non-verbal cues which aren’t available on phone calls. This has been an increasing challenge for my grandpa in recent years as audio call quality has dropped as more people are using cell phones. We had no idea if the Skype call would work but we figured it was worth a shot.
As soon as Brenda appeared on the screen Grandpa instantly started chatting with her as if they were in the same room. He remembered almost everyone from the photos from the 1940s and was beside himself with the video and screen sharing technology. He and Brenda agreed to talk monthly.
On the ride home, Grandpa couldn’t stop talking about the personal nature of video chat. He thanked me for introducing him to it, seemed to want to give me some credit for inventing it, and said “live an interesting life”.
Since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how to help Grandpa get setup with video chat in his home. At first, we thought about using a Captel phone, which translates speech to text and would allow Grandpa to essentially read his phone calls. Captel requires Internet so I helped get it installed. A downside to Captel is they use humans to listen to phone calls and transcribe them to text which is a bit strange from a privacy standpoint. After I had the Internet installed Grandpa wanted to cancel the Internet immediately. I kept him at bay with the promise of video chat like our call with Brenda.
At first, I thought maybe I’d buy him an older model iPad or iMac. Then one day I found out Amazon released Echo Show, which is basically an Echo with a screen. I bought one on Cyber Monday and when it came a few days later, I hopped in the car and headed to my grandparent’s, picking up a couple 5 Guys burgers on the way (extra onions for Grandpa).
I recorded the unboxing with a GoPro strapped to my head. After fussing with some software updates we started playing with it. I tried to hook up my Spotify account and couldn’t get it to work so we started a free trial of Amazon Music. Grandma was able to get Echo to play Benny Goodman on the first try. She reminisced about their dancing days and asked when I’m going to start dancing lessons. Later in the evening, we video called my fiancé and my brother. Everyone had such a good time chatting and Grandpa was again astonished by video chat.
While there are some obvious improvements to be made (Youtube doesn’t seem to work), Echo Show is basically the future. I couldn’t help but think about how NanaGram co-exists. It’s pretty simple though. While my siblings and I can’t be on video chat all the time, our photos live on their walls and fridge, bringing them joy 24/7. The photos also give us something new to talk about when we call.
At some point maybe I’ll release more of the unboxing, but for now here’s a 4-minute segment of Grandpa, Grandma, and me having a fun time getting started with Alexa Show. It’s a must-watch until the end.
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