I can vaguely recall the first time I used my laptop to video chat with a friend. It was a warm, summer day, but I was sitting inside probing my new laptop, trying to determine its most alluring feature. Immediately, I opened up iChat, the Mac version of AIM that allowed for video chats, and clicked on the little camera shaped button over one of my friends screen names.
Initially, they turned down the request.
“Sup?” they asked, in a nonchalant manner just a mere seconds after crushing my inquisitive aspirations.
“I just want to try this out” I said, hoping they wouldn’t require any more convincing beyond that.
Then, a long pause.
“Ugh. It’s really not that new.”
No, they were right, it wasn’t new at all. In fact, iChat had been out for at least a few years, and webcams had been on the market for even longer than that. Still, it was something that was beginning to really pick up a head of steam, and would soon become a common feature for most laptops. I just wanted to experience it firsthand.
So finally, after some additional encouragement, I convinced them to accept my request.
And just seconds later, I saw both a video of me in a small corner of my screen, and a video of them. Nothing mind blowing, but it was still a cool feature at the time.
Since my initial foray into the world of video chats, the how and for what aspects of video chatting have changed quite drastically. From one-on-one video chats with distant family in England, to meeting with random strangers on such sites as chat roulette, webcams have helped shrink that void that still exists between the Internet and interacting with people in person.
No, webcams probably won’t ever substitute for meeting with someone in person anytime soon. I realize that. But they have helped the Internet develop into a more people friendly place. Whereas AOL Chatrooms and IMs were once the norm, 4-way meetings and introductions to new people are quickly becoming the new medium through which we communicate over the web.
Now, our connections with friends and family have faces and voices attached to them. Sure, text will probably still rule the roost for a while, but at least now, seeing eye-to-eye with someone over the web isn’t just a figure of speech.