Members of today’s armed forces have more ways than ever before to stay in contact with loved ones. While active deployment is always a difficult and trying time for service families, today’s technology has made communication with loved ones at home and abroad easier than ever, depending upon your deployment location. Here are some commonly used free tools that families can use to make the distance between loved ones more manageable. All of these tools are free to use, and at most require a high-speed internet connection and a computer, or a cellphone.
- Video Chat
Skype is a free application that allows users to video chat over a computer or cellphone connection. Of course, a video camera is needed to broadcast your image; fortunately most computers these days come with a built-in camera. Apple’s proprietary iChat software is a free alternative for Mac users. It gives you all the same features of Skype, but it’s built to be really easy to learn for those who are familiar with Apple’s OS.
- Instant Messaging
Instant messaging has become ubiquitous in the computing world in the past decade. Instant messaging is so popular that every email provider offers it as a part of their service, free of charge. Users with a decent Internet connection and a membership with an email service can send instant messages (or IMs) to anyone they wish, as long as the sender has the receiver’s account name within the same IM service provider. For example, if you are logged into an IM account with Yahoo, you will only be able to contact loved ones who also are on Yahoo, provided you have their Yahoo ID. Users can also have more than one IM provider account. In order to help manage multiple accounts, independently designed, third party software (called clients) exists you can use to manage all those varied accounts from one interface. IM clients such as Trillian makes it easy to log-in and manage multiple IM accounts from a single screen.
- Social Media
Free services like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ have allowed families to stay in contact with each other in all walks of life. They can easily be used to keep lines of communication open during an active deployment. The ability to post timestamped audio and video in an open forum makes the social network sites a little different from the other technology listed in the this article; users don’t have to be logged on at the same time to communicate with one another. Families can create private groups on Facebook and Google+ that allow multiple family members to use their individual accounts to check the status of loved ones anywhere in the world. Also, each of these social media services have adjustable privacy settings that can make your correspondence as protected as you like. Facebook and Google+ even allow users to IM and video chat with each other.
Despite all of the changes in technology during the last decade or so, active deployment is always trying. After all, time apart from your family can always be a source of anxiety. No matter what technology you use, staying in contact with your loved ones – in the service or civilian – remains important. Use the above tools to show that you care.