By Christina Tynan-Wood; Illustrations by Chris Arran
My girlfriends love to dial my cell because I have the best voice mail service around. It welcomes callers by name or with a message I record specifically for them, and also e-mails me when someone leaves voice mail, so I know to check even if my phone is dead. Best of all is the nifty option to ditch someone -- as in, if I'm being pestered by a telemarketer or someone I don't want to hear from, I can set it to play an out-of-service message and simply hang up. My pals assume that I pay for this. As if! Everything I use is free at youmail.com. Sign up at the site and prompts will walk you through replacing your phone's built-in system.
My family, friends, and colleagues are literally all over the world, from California and Canada to Ireland and Iceland. Do I drop tons of cash to connect? Nope. My cell plan is literally the cheapest one available and I don't even have a home phone line. I communicate with my broadband Internet connection, a PC, and Skype, skype.com. The software is free to download and lets me talk to anyone else with Skype via computer at no cost. For $3 a month, I can also connect to POTS (plain old telephone service!) phones and cell phones with my Skype account and get unlimited minutes in the U.S. and Canada. Another $30 a year buys me a direct phone number so people can call me, and Skype can also handle instant messaging, conference calls, and video chat if you have a Web cam.
Recently, my now-dating-again sister turned to me with this tech-y question: "My BFF met someone on eHarmony. A friend from yoga swears by Match. But is there any free online dating?" I suggest plentyoffish.com. There are more than 900,000 fish in that sea -- so many she can trump her friends by meeting Mr. Right without ponying up a credit card number. All she has to do is register and answer some basic compatibility questions, then she can browse potentials on the house.