The technology has actually arrived. Since my days running in from the playfield to catch “Star Trek,” I always dreamed of the day I could do it. In the future, how will we ACTUALLY make it possible to communicate with someone both audially and visually on a screen from a long distance away just like James T. Kirk and crew with the JumboTron on the bridge of the Enterprise? To my constant wonderment, that day has arrived. The weird thing about this futuristic technology is it’s been here for a while.
Facebook recently announced they are testing a video “Call” button next to the “Message” tab on users’ Profile pages. Powered through Skype (who has their own market share themselves), Facebook’s upcoming video feature hardly comes as a surprise. Google+’s Hangout has long established itself in addition to such companies as Airtime, ooVoo, and Tinychat. While Facebook’s video capabilities contain only limited offerings at this point (no screensharing, no group chat, no YouTube compability) it wholly makes up for it in connecting the user to every friend and connection they have.
That is what Facebook has going for them. Sheer user numbers. Everyone is versed in Facebook’s ever-rising membership totals, now nearing 900 million. That should be enough. The problem, though, is who actually uses video chat anyway?! Skype has been around since 2003 yet I can count on one hand how many times I have actually used it. Understandably, it hits the heartstrings when I see soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan being able to talk with family 7,000 miles away. That’s why video chat is such a technological gift. The general public just hasn’t utilized it in everyday life as much as we could.
With the expanded use of long-distance video conferencing for business, Skype and other video chat companies have become very useful for connecting with each other over large distances. Unfortunately, that usefulness hasn’t translated to individual users. Why?
I believe at least two factors inhibit individual users from maximizing video chat consistently: time management and vanity. Being present with someone over video chat doesn’t necessarily allow for multi-tasking projects. With instant messaging, there lies the opportunity to address incoming IM messages on your own time, managing communication with the recipient as you wish.
The second factor is more emotional and self-conscious. Can you honestly say to yourself you never consider what you or your environment looks like prior to answering or thinking about initiating a Skype chat? Most computer cameras aren’t as flattering to the user as we would like them to be in the FIRST place. Add the fact we’re naturally inclined to question how well we look before taking action anyway, and there you have it. The rarity of Skype use.
The idea we’re going to all of a sudden jump on this new Facebook “Call” button just because it’s out in the open a little more is at least a little unrealistic. How long now have we had Facebook video chat? You know where it is; that video camera icon at the top right of every IM box. Yep, there it is. Yet I don’t know of one person I’ve spoken to that has actually used it or makes a habit of using it.
It’s too bad too. I believe it’s an asset users just haven’t gotten around to yet. Talking heads are always saying in these days of mobile devices, iPads, and talking cars we never sit down and look at each other face-to-face anymore! Well, we now have the technology to do just that, even over long distances, and we never do. You know what that tells me? The technology isn’t the issue. As it was before even the Internet, the issue still lies with us.