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Valentines Via Video Conference

Despite attending graduate schools thousands of mile apart, a married couple manage to 'see' each other about once a week--across the Internet.

February 13, 1996|NONA YATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long-distance relationships carried out over computer networks are not so unusual anymore. But Francie and Quinten Black's marriage is a bit different from most.

They can see and talk to each other over the Internet.

Married since 1990, the Blacks were faced with a dilemma when Quinten, 31, was accepted into medical school at Tulane University in New Orleans. Francie, 28, had to stay in Los Angeles to finish her MBA at Pepperdine.

How could they maintain their relationship while living on different coasts? Both were familiar with computers, having operated a real estate business online, so they decided to let the technology work for them.

They became pioneers in an emerging manifestation of love in the '90s--personal video-conferencing over the Internet.

Each has a small golf-ball-shaped camera with a built-in microphone attached to their computer. When they "call," they can see and hear each other.

"We can literally talk over the Internet, basically at no charge," said Francie, who lives in Granada Hills. "We have direct Internet access through our business, so we're not being charged by the hour or the minute. We've been doing it for about a year or year and a half."

They manage to "see" each other about once a week. Like those busy couples who live in the same house, however, getting together is more a scheduling problem than anything else.

"There were periods of time when we [communicated] every single day, when our schedules permitted it," she said. "It was more of a scheduling thing because Quinten has to go to the computer lab at Tulane" to log on.

A side benefit is that the technology allows for socializing with other people, albeit virtually.

"If he's in the computer lab he'll introduce me to his friends," she said. "It's basically like being in a room with someone but you can't physically touch them--professors, whoever wanders into the lab."

Some companies use video conferencing to conduct meetings with employees and clients in far-flung locations. For personal use, though, the technology is so new that even jaded computer jocks can be impressed.

"I work for a pretty high-tech company (Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks) and the network guys say, 'Wow, that's cool' when they see it," Francie said.

But, as Valentine's Day approaches, can she say it has helped their relationship?

"It helps in terms of being able to see each other and say 'Hi,' " she said. "It's definitely an asset."

But it's no substitute for the real thing:

"We see each other face to face about every three or four weeks."

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