From Calling Cards to Clicking Services Online
Fifteen years back, if you lived in North America and wanted to call back home, your options to complete the call included using your exorbitantly priced fixed line or mobile service provider, an international voice calling service, or calling cards that used internet telephony to get the calls through. Many a time, calling cards were notorious for call drops, premature disconnects, and a host of other problems. As the cheapest option, though, they were extremely popular with new immigrants and work permit holders.
Your workweek panned out almost similarly. Work forty hours or more (if you were in a full-time position) and plan out your personal/household chores during the weekend. So Friday was the day when many immigrants lined up at the checkout counters of their favourite ethnic grocery store to pick up prepaid calling cards to call back home. The checkout counter associate, too, played a significant role in the calling card preference. Every associate had his recommendations/expert views on which card gave better talk time, had lesser call drops, and more validity.
Today this weekly ritual has changed dramatically. You have a host of options to communicate/call back home weekly, daily, or even hourly. Distance does not feel distant anymore, thanks to cutting edge technology of messenger services like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and others. Technology helps connect seamlessly , erases the distance barrier, and improve your social standing. And this holds good for all; a new immigrant, a seasoned naturalized citizen, a work permit holder, or a student.
Yet, for many other things, you wish you had someone to help you. Someone on the other side who you could depend on. We all go through the same embarrassment of asking our relatives or friends to help out repeatedly until their tolerance wears thin. Additionally we feel awkward to ask them to adjust our suitable timelines.
Let me illustrate with a friend’s story.
A brilliant student, an only child, all of Ramesh’s decisions were always taken, keeping his ageing parents in mind. He went to the closest college for engineering (not the best one even though he qualified easily), found a job in the same city as his parents (thinking there was no one to take care of them), so on and so forth.
After he got married, his wife started egging him to take risks, go abroad for higher studies, or better work opportunities. Ramesh finally relented and decided to go, leaving his wife to take care of his ageing parents. In a few weeks after his wife also joined him abroad, his old worries started haunting him again. He eventually decided to get his parents to visit him on a visit visa. Still, he found many formalities to be completed, which he could not do living in a foreign country. Jealousy of his newfound affluence also pushed some of his relatives away, and they refused to help.
In a dilemma, he approached a self-styled, stand-alone facilitator to help him coordinate everything about his ageing parents’ visit. Initially, the facilitator was very prompt in his dealings, but as time went by, the facilitator was lax, lied at times, and was very poor in his feedback. Ramesh eventually had to terminate his services.
In absolute frustration, Ramesh approached me.
These were some of Ramesh’s concerns. Who will take my parents for the visa interview and medical tests? Who will look after their home when they are abroad? What are their options if they get sick and need hospitalization when they are with me? Who will see them off at the airport in India? If they extend their visa, who will help them file their returns in India for the next assessment year? What will they do when they come here? After all, my wife and I will be busy with work and our son engaged with his schoolwork; how do I ensure that do not say we want to go back within one month of coming here?
I told Ramesh that the only mistake he made in choosing the facilitator was choosing an individual rather than a company, not whetting his credentials or checking service costs before engaging the individual. Ramesh should have checked out a few facilitation companies, rather than an individual, as a company has better reach, more workforce, and is better informed of ever-changing international laws. I did recommend a company or two I had dealt with. He decided to go with one of them.
Ramesh has been able to get his ageing parents to visit him (in the pre-Covid-19 era), rent out or maintain his property in India, gets regular feedback on financial trends in India and the USA, arrange for seamless travel transfers to and from his parents’ home in India, assign someone to check on their wellbeing and health while they are living alone in India and do a host of other things without ever troubling his relatives.
And all this at a click of a button on his laptop.
In today’s world, technology and your happiness quotient go hand in hand.