For decades, ever since Dick Tracy made calls through the video screen on his wristwatch, video chat has been a personal technology everybody could imagine using, but that — for an array of technology, standardization and sociological reasons — few have actually used. A survey this spring by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that only about 20 percent of adult U.S. Internet users have participated in a video chat.
Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C., said there are also social reasons why video chat has not been embraced.
In many daily interactions, people don't want the level of intimacy required by a video chat, Rainie said.
"It is more complicated than an instant message, where you can just dash it off and do it in the midst of doing other things," Rainie said over the phone from Washington. "With a webcam exchange, you can't be multi-tasking, or even thinking about it. With a phone call — as I'm talking to you right now, I'm looking at my screen. And if I felt like it, I could be browsing my e-mail, or I could be filing my nails, or tying my shoe, and you wouldn't be bugged that I wasn't making eye contact.
"What some people tell us is that what they like with electronic communication is that they can apportion their attention without suffering in any great social way."Read More