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Self-isolation need not be a solitary prison sentence thanks to video calls


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So it's official: we shouldn't meet each other much. No going to the pub, no Mass, no bingo, no house visits.

For the young and those with up-to-date video-calling skills, it's not so bad.

They have FaceTime, Skype, Hangouts and other bits of technology they effortlessly use to stay in touch.

But for older people who may not have kept up, and who still rely on seeing even one other face each day to stave off loneliness, it may feel much more drastic.

"So we're to be locked in our homes for weeks?" is how one pensioner described it to me yesterday.

It need not be a solitary prison sentence. There is a host of free tech tools that are reasonably easy to set up and which can go a long, long way to beating utter isolation.

In the coming days, I'll go through each of these in some detail.

But first, let's look at video calls. I'm going to focus on two of the most popular services: FaceTime and Google Hangouts.

Skype is also a good option, but I don't think it's quite as simple to use for most beginners as the first two so I'll focus primarily on those.

1. FaceTime (free to use, comes with iPhones, iPads and Macs)

This may be the simplest one to use but has one big drawback: you have to have an Apple iPhone, Apple iPad or Apple Mac computer.

If you don't, or if the person you want to see doesn't, skip to the next method now.

FaceTime is easy to use because it works right from the part of your iPhone where you make ordinary calls.

Just pick the person from 'contacts' or 'recents' in the phone app and tap the blue 'i' symbol beside their name.

You'll now see a 'FaceTime' video call icon. Tap that and you'll make the FaceTime video call to that person.

You will see and hear them and they will see and hear you, because of the camera that's on the front of your phone.

If you use an iPad, there's a separate 'FaceTime' app symbol on the front page of the device.

And it's the same on an Apple iMac or MacBook laptop. FaceTime can be used on the normal mobile network on your iPhone, but needs wifi (such as your home wifi) to work on your tablet or laptop.

2. Hangouts (free to use, but must download or log in)

Of all the free video-calling apps out there, Hangouts might be the most flexible and powerful.

It lets you do video calls with one person or several people at the same time.

It's made by Google and can be accessed downloading the free app, or any smartphone or any tablet, or going to the website Hangouts.google.com.

To start a call, you need to have a free Google account, which is the same as a Gmail or YouTube login and uses the same password. If you don't have one, just go to Gmail.com and set one up.

The website is slightly easier to use than the app.

When you're logged in, you'll see a big 'video call' symbol. Click or tap that and it will ask you to 'invite people'.

Start typing a name and it may recognise it from your own contacts list.

If not, you'll need to type in their email address. It can be any email address; only the person making the call has to have a Google account.

This means that you can join someone else's call even if you don't have a Gmail or Google account. Then you can add other people as you like, by replicating the first step.

Before you know it, you have a group video chat under way. You can stay on the line as long as you like because the Hangouts call uses your wifi, which is very unlikely to run out of data, no matter how long the call is.

Hangouts isn't quite as easy as FaceTime to set up, because it's not as neatly built into any single phone or laptop. But it can be accessed by far more people.

Irish Independent