Calling On A Stranger

The evolution of IP communications technology has wrought profound changes in the way communications networks and systems are architected and designed -- and is surely well on its way towards completely replacing our legacy, TDM infrastructure.

But aside from the disruption this technology is creating within the global telecommunications industry, and the wealth of new features and capabilities being delivered to users, little is being written or said about some of the profound changes occuring in user behavior and expectations as a result of these new capabilities.

For example, I'm sure many Skype users (and I expect members of other competing Web telephony cum "voice community" services) have received calls from complete and total strangers -- even without the "Skype Me" status selected that invites such serendipitous communications.
moldova map.jpg Recently, I received a surprise call from a student from Moldova looking to make some new friends in America and an opportunity to practice her English speaking skills, which turned out to be fairly decent. (I was surprised since my Skype status was set to "away", and as a result I was not expecting to receive any calls.)

At first, I was sort of taken aback, uncertain how to respond. OK, l'll admit it -- I was suspicious -- deeply suspicious. I wondered if this was some scammer, looking to perpetrate some nefarious crime. After a while, though, I started to realize that my hesistation to engage in conversation with a complete stranger was firmly tied to the old TDM telecom world, where you would NEVER, EVER dialup a stranger, except of course when misdialing a number. You'd certainly never try to engage a stranger in conversation -- they'd surely think you were some kind of kook, making a phony phone call, or worse, and just hang up.

And in addition to the social incorrectness of it all, the prospect of significant toll charges are a great inhibitor to making International TDM calls -- especially from somewhere like Moldova to the U.S.

It turned out she was quite fun and pleasant, and we had a great conversation. After spending a few minutes with her, I realized that she was a new Skype user and was simply enjoying her newfound Skypeness.  She was doing what is a normal -- and indeed encouraged -- practice in terms of the Skype culture. And it didn't hurt that the call was completely free.

Her excitement reminded me of the excitement I felt, when many years ago, I made a telephone ring in Moscow the day International circuits went live between the US and the Soviet Union (I'm sure I made it onto some government watch list as a result

So, it's clear that the open, opt-in communications culture of Skype and it's ilk is changing  social practices and people's behavior with respect to engaging in live, voice communications. There is a grand experiment occuring before our very eyes (and ears), and it's going to be quite interesting to see how it all plays out in the years ahead. And it raises some interesting questions -- especially about protecting our privacy -- in this brave new world.

What do you think? Have you had any amusing, interesting (or even scary) Skype moments you'd like to share?
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