Saturday, June 15 2024

The book

Skyping the Family: Interpersonal Video Communication and Domestic Life

(Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2019) focuses on an in-depth study into the
reasons for, the use of, and the role of video calling within social
interactions, especially within the family. It delves deeply into the
everyday usage of video calling, in this case particularly the use of
Skype. Skype and other video calling applications have a goal of providing
people with an opportunity to “communicate as they would do ordinarily and
without (more or less) any corruption caused by the intermediation of
technology.”

Video calling has forever changed the way families can communicate with one
another thousands of miles apart. Some people really enjoy using video
calls for the purposes of seeing the other person and their surroundings,
while others find that same reason as a source of discomfort and
awkwardness.

In some ways, video calling takes everyday conversations a step farther due
to both users’ ability to see each other and themselves. Appearances,
greetings, and topics of conversation are intertwined in the users’
relationships on Skype.

First and foremost, the editors wanted to demonstrate the common knowledge
and presence of Skype/Skyping between friends, family, coworkers, etc.
People discuss Skyping as a commonality with common verbiage and language.
The mere fact that the term Skyping emerged illustrates its
importance.

It is evident that the writers of the book (a collection of various
chapters including data from different research) devoted a lot of time into
the work. Each section of the book dives deeply into its topic using case
studies that demonstrate the argument. The book wanted to focus on families
as a central audience for Skype because they often use Skype to establish a
connection when they are separated, often using storytelling through video
more than words. For example, when a parent goes on a business trip, a
child goes off to college, or a cousin or relative lives in another part of
the world, Skype enables family members to stay in communication through
video. If physically being present with each other is not possible, Skype
allows a technological interaction.

Harper, Watson, and Licoppe, the editors of the book, explored the way in
which family conversations can be altered while making a video call.
Skyping is a great means of storytelling and maintaining visual contact
with others, but it does shift the way in which people interact. Video
calling varies from face-to-face interaction because the flow of
conversation cannot be carried out in the same manner. Often, the norms of
family interactions do not exist in Skype due to quality of connection,
environment, and physical appearance. Talking over someone is more
frequent, maintaining a single topic can be harder due to ever-changing
scenery, and including other people in the video. However, all these things
also provide a deeper level of intimacy than a simple phone call. Finally,
Skyping also creates intimacy through enabling multiple video calls and
simultaneous messaging, in which people can share screens, show things from
their point of view, and text and send messages while they video call.

The book, a scholar work, is laden with jargon and packed with details,
data, and quotes. Thus, it can be difficult to follow and challenging to
read in one sitting due to its wordy and comprehensive nature, especially
if someone is new to this form of technology. However, if you are able to
move past these hurdles, then Skyping the Family is a very
informative and well-written study. It reveals a lot about the use of video
calling as an integral part of modern society and the effects it has upon
our everyday interactions.

One limitation of the book is the fact the research is restricted to one
particular “instrument” of video calling, Skype. It would be helpful to
enlarge the field as to make room for comparisons with other ways of video
calling, so as to distinguish what appertains to the instrument and its
technological conditioning and what to the “family conversation” per se. In fact, and with respect to when the book was published
(2019), in the last few months and due to the COVID pandemic, the offer of
free computer applications that provide video calls has multiplied:
FaceTime, Facebook Messenger and Zoom have already surpassed Skype in the
United States, and Google Hangouts/Meet, WhatsApp and others will follow
soon.

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