Video Calling: Why Hasn’t It Gotten Popular?

There’s a discussion going on today on a private mailing list I’m a part of, and the topic is video calling, and why it hasn’t gotten more popular. There are certainly a lot of people using Webcams out there to communicate, but it’s certainly the least-used form of communication when compared to email, IM, voice calls, etc. My response to this question is below.

The single biggest reason for the lack of video calling taking off isn’t technological – there are powerful psychological barriers that are in the way of video calling ever being popular. Video calling brings with it an
intimacy of communication that not everyone is prepared for, or interested in. I’ve done video calls over Skype with my wife, but virtually no one else. I don’t even have a webcam on my computer.

There are practical communication issues as well – to do a phone conference call, I only have to be awake. To do a video conference call, I have to actually prepare myself as if I were going out to meet someone. Who wants to do that? I work from home for a reason. 😉 As others have mentioned, when video calling, it’s immediately obvious when someone isn’t looking into the camera and is doing something else – like many people, I tend to multi-task, especially if it’s on a conference call where I’m one of many people on the line. One on one, I usually give the phone call my complete attention.  And we can’t discount the fact that, in North American culture at least,  a lot of people have trouble looking others in the eyes in person…and that carriers over into the video calling world to an even greater degree.

People who do regular video conference calls at work likely have a different point of view on this subject – I’d be really interested to know if those types of people have a higher rate of using Webcams at home, doing video calls on their personal time, etc. I’d suspect not, but it would be interesting to know!