Monday, February 25, 2008

My, OH MY, How Things Have Changed

We were without an internet connection again this week. (That's why I couldn't post this weekend). It's been unreliable since we moved here and I've gotten used to it. Unfortunately, if we don't have internet... we don't have a phone to the USA. We have two lines in our apartment: one that works locally and one that we use for international calls, routed through the internet.

The local phone is pretty reliable and it could be used to call the US--I had to use it this week for that purpose. I bought and used a local scratch-off calling card, though (Arktell seems to be best for you local readers). We learned early on to avoid using our local phone to dial directly. It's not really a question of the costs (which are higher), but rather it's such a hassle to then pay the bill. International calls generate a whole different bill, one which we don't reliably receive, and you have to pay for those calls in person at some office other than where you go to just pay for the regular phone service. None of this, of course, can be done on-line. As a result, it's easy to get your phone service cut off entirely because you didn't know you had a bill to pay--or it hadn't come so you could pay it. You can't just go and put down a sum towards your number, knowing you'd made calls--no paperwork, no money accepted. Oh, and be sure to have your passport. UGH!

For our internet service we have Skype and Vonage. Chris uses Skype to forward calls to his work number and cell phone. Vonage routes calls to our home number; I don't want to get international calls on my cell since if I'm out and using my cell phone, I'm driving or at work (i.e. in front of a class of students whom I am constantly lecturing to TURN OFF THEIR DARN CELL PHONES) most times.

The cool thing about these services is how you they allow you to have local US numbers. We have CT, NY and CO numbers (it's extra for each state added, but cheaper to do that than have the people calling us in those places have to pay for long-distance to reach us). Vonage even lets you keep your old "regular" number when you switch to them! We ended up not doing that, in part to avoid having people call us in the middle of the night, unaware we weren't exactly on "Brooklyn time" anymore :-). I still get the occasional wrong number in the middle of the night ("No, REALLY, you have the wrong number and there's no Javier here..."). When the wrong number dialers call back, I usually inform them that they've actually called Moscow, Russia--that sure freaks them out until I add that they haven't been charged for an international call. Some of the random calls can be a pain, but they've died down for the most part. The New York Times finally "got it" that we don't want to resume our paper delivery ("Trust me... We're really not local anymore...").

But back to title of this post...

I remember what it was like living here in 1991 without ANY internet! I used to have to go to this place:

It's the Central Telegraph building, a down the street from the Kremlin on Tverskaya ulitsa. Going there used to be such a huge ordeal!!! You could arrange for a booth to make prepaid and surely recorded international call, but I didn't do that (way too expensive). I waited in the LONG lines to be allowed to send a fax to a friend at Dartmouth. She then photocopied them and mailed them off to various people. There wasn't ANYWHERE to use the internet, so e-mail was impossible.

I did make some calls, but by calling the international operator from the apartment and reserving a specific time (and hoping the person I'd call would actually be home and answer). The international operator would then call me at the reserved time and put the call through to the USA. Average citizens didn't have phones capable of calling overseas--that's one way to control information! I don't think the procedures have changed since then about how to then pay for that call, but my host family had it all figured out and didn't mind as long as I paid immediately when the bill came. Calls to the US at that time cost more than groceries for a week... I'm sure they were in disbelief. (But life here was so inexpensive--provided you only bought the few items available--that the calls weren't too costly by US standards).

So anyway... After having lived here in 1991 under those conditions, it really doesn't seem like such a big deal to have sporadic internet service sometimes. I never could have imagined during those times being able to download current US television to the computer, looking up local Moscow resources and phone numbers, sharing digital pictures, listening to NPR on my ipod, shopping via the internet (but still not having things directly sent here, though) and... BLOGGING!


Katya said...

Do you guys do skype video conferences? We have skype, too and I would love to see your girls!

Annie said...

Our internet was down for a couple of days, too, this week. And this is so strangely common. I can't help but think that it is because we are a church - I doubt they'd treat a business like that.

But it is just amazing how much we come to rely on it! I had to go to a basketball game in some far-flung part of the city the other night and just sat here at first,dismayed, unable to think how I could get directions to this other parish without mapquest! Finally I remembered that there is a large city map posted on a wall down the hall and I betook myself there to consult it. I felt rather stupid, frankly, being so easily thrown.

Rachael said...

The modern day version of "when I was a kid, we walked to school uphill in the snow with no shoes on!" You can regale Katya and Natalia with stories of how it used to be! :)

But, wow, seriously, how much has changed in such a truly short time.

garnet said...

When I spent two years in Romania in 94-96 we had a building like this from which to make calls but I think I only used it once or twice. Just too much of a pain. Now I go to visit and the phone rings and you spend several minutes trying to figure out which of the five or six cell phones in the tiny apartment is ringing.

And my husband is on Skype to his relatives in Romania regularly. They're mostly retired and have way more free time than we do so are always calling.

Christine said...

That would be so frustrating. I get ticked off when service is out for an hour let alone a whole week.