By Scott Baughman

Summer has arrived at last and if your family is like mine, we’re all looking forward to our vacation time together! You can spend your days chilling out by the pool, going for a beautiful mountain hike, visiting one of our amazing state or national parks – or, of course, taking in the beauty that is our beloved Lake Lure.

But what happens when you decide you want to say hey to those wonderful kids or grandkids that aren’t presently at your summer retreat? Or you decide to catch up with some old friends who are far away and possibly plan a get together now that vacation season is upon us? Or, heaven forbid, you’ve got an important meeting for work you just can’t miss, even during your time off?

Fear not, dear readers, for this is the information age and we have the wonders of the Internet to solve all – well, almost all – of our problems. Including this one! The latest term for the ability to make those connections despite your geographical limitations is “telepresence” and it’s a fancy way of saying that telephones have really been upgraded.

I’m not just talking about the mobile phone, flip phone, cell phone or even smart phones, I’m talking about a suite of technologies that make it seem like you’re never more than one room away from the person or group of people you need to talk to no matter the actual difference in distance.

Now, you may have heard of a few of these already, but in this installment of Technically Speaking we’re going to discuss three of the best new ways to get work done or chat with family members even while you’re several states or sometimes even countries away.  And then we’ll talk about one tried and true method that has changed the world for the better over the last few decades that still has its place in the hierarchy of communication technology.

First up, let’s discuss video conferencing. Now, I’m assuming most of you were around and kicking during the 1980s so you might remember the herky, jerky video compression phone calls – once called “vidcalls” – that were touted as the latest and greatest thing during CES meetings in the decade of decadence. But long gone are those days of unintelligible communications and frustrating interruptions for vid-calls. Today, we have Skype!

Skype – an eBay company, headquartered in Luxembourg (with several offices located throughout the world) – began in 2003, and was founded by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis. Skype is an online communication tool that you can use to talk to anyone anywhere in the world. You can use it as an instant messaging service, or as a telephone… with a special Skype phone or traditional headset. It even works for video calls. Calls to and from other Skype members are free. Calls made to and from cell phones or land line phones are charged at a per-minute rate, unless you are paying a monthly fee. Skype is almost seamless in its video call transitions and the call quality – and voice quality – are top-notch. The big thing that sets Skype apart from the other video call pretenders is its ability to use a peer-to-peer network to spread the workload of the video signal across hundreds of thousands of computers and devices around the world simultaneously. With those other computers sharing the workload, the call quality can be outstanding. And with the Skype app on your smartphone or tablet using a WiFi network connection, you can have the video conference with your grandkids or boss in the palm of your hand no matter where you are.

The second of the best telepresence options available today is a networking collaboration application called Slack. Don’t let the name fool you, Slack isn’t about taking time off and doing nothing. In fact it is just the opposite. This productivity software is about applying a limited network that acts like a much larger social network. Think of it as Facebook for just you and the people you designate, not the whole planet. Facebook may have over 1 billion users but Slack can have as few as five people connected to the same network where they can share text messages, files and even snarky comments with each other that only those users can read.

Finally, the best way to attend a meeting or conference which you can’t make in person is called “GoToMeeting” and involves a way of sharing your computer desktop with other users across the world. GoToMeeting also incorporates the video and audio conferencing options seen in some of our other apps on this list. But if you’re doing something that doesn’t require as much collaboration, GoToMeeting is a little more than what you need.

Oh, and if you just need to send a file or short note? Yeah, you know, it’s called email. Until next time, download complete!