Bridging the time gap with Skype

It isn’t that they have an aversion to 21st century life, it’s just that author Sarah Chrisman and her husband Gabriel prefer the Victorian lifestyle. They’re aficionados of the late 19th century, so much so that they’ve devoted their lives to living it as closely as possible. For the most part, they’re successful in avoiding a dependence on electrical conveniences and instant technology—they use oil lamps for lighting their house, and an antique wood stove for heating and cooking. They’ve also adopted Victorian fashions as their choice of clothing.

Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman on bicycles along the coast
Photo by Estar Hyo Gyung Choi

“We came at this very gradually, beginning with the clothing and adding technology and other elements as budget and opportunity allowed,” says Sarah.

“We focus on the 1880s and 90s because it was an incredibly dynamic time,” she says. “Many of the issues and challenges that people struggle with today had parallels back then, and the world of the time is shockingly recognizable to a modern viewer with the context to understand what they’re seeing.

“We feel very strongly that the people and culture of the time left behind important lessons for the modern world and we try to be living examples of those lessons.”

Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman
Photo by Lou Daprile

Sarah has never been a big fan of telephones, so she’s never bothered with cell phones, and feels that “even landline telephones can be very disruptive, since they allow anyone to invade one’s house at any time with neither invitation nor permission.”

The Chrismans do need to stay in touch and have allowed some modern technology into their lives. “We don’t have mobile phones or tablets; those are among the things we’ve chosen not to use,” says Sarah. “I don’t like speaking with a disembodied voice divorced of the facial expressions and body language which are so important to human communication. Skype’s video call option is much closer to a face-to-face discussion, and is much more comfortable and effective for us.”

“We just use Skype on a laptop. We like it precisely because it doesn’t take extra hardware over what we already had. It’s something we turn on when we want it (when a call has been scheduled) and turn off when we don’t,” she says.

“We chose Skype because we already had a computer which I use for sending manuscripts to publishers and for certain elements of research, and we wanted to avoid any additional modern hardware.”

Sarah and Gabriel use Skype when talking to journalists, students, and researchers. “Also, one of my oldest friends has a son in seventh-grade who I give writing lessons to via Skype; it’s a very useful tool for that purpose!” explains Sarah.

Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman on Skype with a class
Photo courtesy of Contemporary Issues through Videoconferencing class at Passaic Valley High School

Sarah has been interested in the Victorian era for as long as she can remember. “As a small child, I was in love with its aesthetics, and as an adult with a degree in International Studies from the University of Washington, I became deeply fascinated with the shifting culture of the time.”

Her husband Gabriel (who has both a History degree and a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington) was fascinated with the rapid expansion of technology in the late 19th-century. Before turning to history, Gabriel was a computer science major. According to Sarah, Gabriel chose to study late 19th-century history because it was a familiar example of a society in the throes of technological change. “Our two very different approaches and perspectives have been extremely valuable to us in our studies and our life —a true marriage of interests.”

Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman
Photo by Estar Hyo Gyung Choi

“Personally, I consider Skype to be the very easiest of calling technology,” says Sarah. “Since we use so little modern technology I consider myself only moderately savvy (at best) with such things; Gabriel’s much better than I am. I look around the room at our oil lamps, ice box, and wood-burning stove and scratch my head when people who’ve built their lives around technology still struggle with making things work.”

These days Sarah spends her time penning a series of Victorian novels called the Tales of Chetzemoka and keeping the outside world abreast of their lives with her website This Victorian Life.