Video Calling as the New Family Norm

Video Calling as the New Family Norm

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.