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Technology: I Think I'll Keep (Some of) It

Keeping in touch while deployed

I had just finished saying that technology isn't always a good thing. Then twice in a week, I was proven wrong.

So many times I hear, "Well, at least you can Skype with your husband while he's deployed. That's good."

Is it?

A funny thing about Skype is that it's not personal. It's "broadcast" in the sense that anyone else in the room can hear and see your conversation. Sometimes I get confused and tell people, "I'd love to hear Dustin's voice just once." Then I remember that in fact I have heard his voice. On Skype. But it doesn't feel that way. I wish he was able to call me on the telephone. And not my iPhone, either, but our actual home telephone -- the one hanging on the wall.

There is something very intimate and personal about having a phone pressed to your ear, the voice coming from the other end received only by you. On Skype there are visual distractions, which, strangely, create a distance. And for all its sophistication, talking through the computer is not like having a real conversation. The camera on my computer is built into the upper frame of my laptop. If I want to see Dustin's face, I have to look down and away from the camera. The effect: He sees only my downcast eyes. And I receive the same from him. (Psst, Apple, how about a camera that is installed behind the computer screen?)

Plus, if you've never tried to talk with kids on Skype, you don't know the real meaning of "circus."

So I was down on Skype and convinced that technology could never facilitate any meaningful connection between Dustin and me while he is halfway around the world.

Then, last Wednesday, Ford's coach asked him to pitch for the first time in a Little League game.

Baseball is the secret language of Dustin and his boys. Ford and Dustin could play catch for hours, and when there is nothing else left to say, they talk baseball. When Owen tried out for Little League this Spring, it killed Dustin that he wasn't home to throw pitches and take Owen to the baseball clinic at the high school.

Sure, I took videos, and the boys talked to their dad on Skype about the tryouts. But ultimately, Dustin would miss all of it. He wouldn't be at the ballpark with Lindell running back and forth, from the concession stand to his leg, asking for more change. He wouldn't hear the ball hit the bat. He wouldn't hear people screaming, "Run!" if one of the boys got a hit.

He would hear the stories, but he wouldn't be there. He wouldn't be in the moment.

The week before Ford's pitching debut, I realized that I have Skype on my iPhone (I'm a slow learner). I told Dustin, and we came up with a plan. The baseball game was at 5:30 p.m. That would be the middle of the night for Dustin, but he set his alarm clock and got on Skype at exactly 5:29 p.m. EST.

I stood at the fence beside home plate and positioned the phone so that it's small lens was in between the metal of the chain links. And while I narrated as best I could ("I think that was a ball, but what do I know? No, wait, the ump says it was a strike."), Dustin watched his oldest son pitch his first two innings in a Little League game. He heard the cheers and the encouraging shouts ("Let's go, Ford! Strike 'em out!"). He even caught glimpses of Lindell running to and from the concession stand.

A week later, we had our 19th Dinner with the Smileys. The guest: Paul Bussiere and his life-size, 200-pound replica of R2-D2. As some of the biggest Star Wars fans ever (proof: they don't like Jar Jar and nothing tops Return of the Jedi), my boys had been waiting for this dinner since January, when I first booked it for our annual "May the Fourth (be with you)" celebration on May 4.

Paul told me R2D2 had a surprise for us: he had gotten the video projector to work and could play the classic Princess Leia hologram from the movie. Only, when Paul set it up, pointing R2 at the blank wall in our living room, a blueish figure appeared. As it came into focus and the static disappeared, we saw that it was Dustin. "Ford, Lindell and Owen Kenobi," he began, and then he gave them specific instructions for a special message, which you can hear and see on the full video at

Technology had brought Dustin's face (from a galaxy far, far away) to our living room. It was just a "hologram," yes, but it was touching and unexpected, and certainly not possible the last two times he deployed.

So I'll keep all this technology and appreciate the opportunities it gives us. But still, I'd much rather have Dustin here. (Anyone have a teleportation transporter with hyperspace capabilities?)

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Navy wife Sarah Smiley is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (2005) and I'm Just Saying (2008). She has been featured in the New York Times and Newsweek, and on Nightline, The Early Show, CNN, Fox News and other local and national news outlets. Her liferights were optioned by Kelsey Grammer's company, Grammnet, and Paramount Television to be made into a half-hour sitcom. Visit for more details. To contact Sarah, you can also visit her Facebook page.

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