A phone-free Fourth of July: Can Skype meet the challenge?

Everyone’s family is a little dysfunctional, but mine has the added benefit of being both dysfunctional and dispersed. We like to get on the phone every holiday to argue about everything.

This Fourth of July, we were separated by more than distance (my parents in Prescott, Ariz., my sister in Phoenix, and three brothers in San Diego, China and Finland, respectively). We’re also separated by a lack of cell phone signal.

Enter the Skype challenge.

My brothers in China and Finland don’t really celebrate the Fourth — it’s a normal workday for them. But the rest of our family definitely wants to argue … er, I mean, talk.

If we wanted to, we could have done a group video call. But as it turns out, we only needed to make one PC-to-PC call. My sister decided to visit our parents in Prescott. So they connected with me this afternoon and we spent more than an hour chatting.

Here’s the really neat thing: I’m in a little town in the Catskill Mountains with no cellular service, but it does offer free citywide Wi-Fi. It’s not the most reliable connection (in fact, yesterday the signal was so weak that the radio interview I had scheduled just couldn’t be done). I was afraid that a video call would just never work.

But it did. I sat in front of my hotel, saw my four-year-old niece draw a butterfly for me (she’s very talented, that one) and listened to my mother and sister solve the world’s problems. It was almost like being there in person, and maybe better, because you can click the little phone icon and make them go away if they are being too nosy.

So in the end, using this technology didn’t just enable the connection; it made it more meaningful.

This is an unusual Fourth of July for me, not just because I’m phone-less. I’m also separated from my immediate family — Kari and the kids — by circumstances beyond our control. Not seeing my own kids this holiday is a real downer for me. So when I got an instant message from my son (yes, he has his own account — don’t tell anyone) saying, “Dad, let’s Skype,” I was pretty thrilled.

Our call lasted only a few minutes. He was using his iPad 2, and whenever he moved, the entire image wobbled. But there were two things he wanted to tell me: that he missed me, and that he loved me.

Best Fourth of July present, ever.