The Trouble with Skype

The trouble with Skype is, I want to have LESS ways of getting in touch (and being contacted), not more.

The Internet brought with it the brilliance of email, the ultimate in asynchronous communication. Someone sends you a message and (even if it’s marked Urgent with a little red exclamation-mark next to it), I can finish what I’m doing, or get my current task to a state where my current thought process is finished and I can easily pick up the task again later. Then, at a more convenient time, I can switch to “in-contact” mode, read my emails and send replies.

It doesn't get much more efficient than that: tasks actually get done, so there's less time messing around switching thought processes between semi-complete, quasi-concurrent threads.

With email, digital communication took a wonderful turn for the pragmatic; a gigantic step away from the inherent rudeness of a “non-maskable interrupt” (NMI) phone call. Email communication (and even IM to an extent, as a decent sort of compromise between the two extremes) is by contrast a serene method of handling contacts and keeping urgency at arm’s length. The result is that you end up more productive because you get to finish tasks, or even just the current thought process, before... hang on, the phone’s ringing. Anyway, where was I?

Skype represents a wonderful technology and they've received a lot of positive press - all of it well-deserved, I'm sure. And the news that eBay are to buy Skype was my rather arbitrary cue to go take another look. This time, I very nearly downloaded and installed it!

In fact, I was very nearly set to email everyone in my address book and urge them all to do the same, so that we could all start telephoning each other, chatting away regardless of cost because there isn’t any. And there’s the problem: with Skype, the calls may be free, but my own time isn’t.

So, I’ve yet to install Skype. I’m still tempted because there’s something enticing, something cool, even anti-establishment about it. (“Damn those telecommunications companies that have linked up the world and enabled modern civilisation!”) But I’ll resist the urge until everyone around me has it, and wonders why I don’t.

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.