Video Valentines: GW couples use webcams to keep in touch

For junior Emily Metz, keeping in touch with her long-distance boyfriend is as easy as minimizing her Microsoft Word document and maximizing his live feed from New York.

Metz and boyfriend Josh Meredith use a Web camera to keep in touch. It’s a real-time camera that allows you to send a video of yourself to the person you are connected with online. The couple likes to get “goofy” sometimes, Metz said, watching TV shows together and even doing their homework with the Web cameras still connected.

“It’s really hard when you get so used to seeing someone everyday,” Metz said of her 10-month relationship. “It makes it a lot easier to see his face every night [with the Web camera].”

Like many struggling long-distance couples, Meredith and Metz use several communication tools to keep in touch throughout the day, but Meredith said he is partial to using his Web camera. Whereas a decade ago, a couple would be relinquished to phone conversations and the occasional visit, now relationships are bolstered through the tubes of the Internet.

“I don’t know if I’d miss her less, but I’ve seen her so I don’t feel awful at the end of the day,” he said.

Keeping in touch with someone can become more difficult with distance, and sometimes phone, e-mail and text messages don’t make the cut. These devices just deliver words stripped of facial expressions and gestures that remind you of the person you are dating.

“Webcams help bridge this gap, allowing users to communicate more personally and more effectively,” according to the Web site for Logitech, a company that manufactures Web cameras and other computer devices.

Web cameras have been used in business meetings and to track animals in the wild for years. Now they are being used in high numbers by long-distance couples who miss seeing their partner.

Web cameras can either be attached on the outside of a PC, or they can be utilized through a computer’s hardware system. In order to keep the feed live, users chat on an Internet connection through an instant message program or a video calling application. There is a wide range of Web cameras available and prices can start as low as $10 and run as high as $1,000.

If couples want to mix it up a bit, Logitech designed a program that allows you to customize the way you look on the other person’s screen. With the software program, Video Effects, you can give yourself a mustache, glasses or even a blond wig.

“This customization thing is really big right now,” Logitech spokesperson Ha Thai said. Other online social networks, such as Facebook, have put an emphasis on adding individual nuances for their users, she said, noting their success.

For couples on a tight budget, Thai recommends signing on with Skype, a program that allows you to chat and use webcams with other users on the Internet free of charge.

“It really keeps your bills down,” she said.

After trying out several video calling applications, Meredith and Metz found that Skype was the most effective because of its high quality and non-existent cost.

Junior Evan Anderson said he paid about $30 for the Web camera he uses about an hour a day to keep in touch with his girlfriend at Loyola College in Maryland.

When asked about the worst part of his Web camera, Anderson’s only response was that, “it’s just a webcam and they could be on the other side of the world.”

Loyola may not be exactly the other side of the world, but come spring, Anderson’s girlfriend will be spending a semester abroad in New Zealand, a change he said that will barely bother him.

“I’m a military brat so I’m used to people coming and going,” he said.

For Anderson, the Web camera is not only a good way to keep in touch with his girlfriend, but it’s also an effective way to meet her roommates. With her web cam connected to the Internet, Anderson was able to see his girlfriend’s roommates and hear them talking in the background.

“She knew people that lived in my hall and I knew her roommates,” he said.

Syndicated college advice columnist and best-selling author Harlan Cohen warns couples about spending too much time on the webcam.

“If you’ve created a device to strap it around your waist.that could be an issue,” Harlan said. He also warned couples to watch what they say or do while sharing their video feed.

Cohen added, “You never know who’s tapping into your webcam.”

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