My daughter and her friends are using videoSkype sessions to interact almost exclusively when they can’t be face-to-face or aren’t texting each other on mobile phones. Skype has become a complete replacement for text-based IM’s as a form of conversation. Given the fact that her friends are scattered across the country on a multitude of campuses, this communication choice makes some sense. It is useful because most are either in dorm rooms working with desktop computers or using laptops that are lugged everywhere and connected either via wifi networks on campuses or in nearby off-campus wifi hotspots.
While the use of video Skype as a primary communication channel for college students might not surprise any college communications professor, I think it offers further confirmation of signals being missed by print-oriented media companies who continue to view multimedia storytelling as an unnecessary luxury. What these companies don’t seem to get is that people want to communicate with visual and auditory communication modalities as principal mechanisms of information transmission. When I ask my daughter about it, she acts as if the answer is so obvious that the question shouldn’t even be asked. She and her fellow students value the video Skype chat software because it enables them to gauge facial expressions, voice tone, and body language as essential parts of the overall content messaging. Given their far-flung locations, this is as close as they can get to maintaining the intimate conversations that once characterized their daily connections in one physical location, namely their high school.
Multimedia story-telling offers vivid, concrete expression of certain information. It can aid rapid cognitive processing of complex data relationships when such things are expressed visually. Digital natives understand these value propositions, and they expect their media diet to offer such content as a matter of course. They want information and conversation to be tied into a seamless web that enables them to make necessary, useful choices in their life. They expect to be able to interact with such communication and share it easily, while having it ubiquitously available via the platforms they are using in the moment.
I don’t think these lessons should be ignored by media companies seeking to stay relevant.
As a back story, Skype’s own future is a subject of some debate and interest among tech bloggers and technology reporters alike. According to The New York Times, several venture capital firms have pooled resources to purchase Skype from eBay despite a lawsuit now underway against eBay that has been filed by JoltID, a company owned by Skype’s original co-founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, over the underlying software that powers Skype. While experts disagree about the possible implications of the suit now headed apparently for a midyear trial in 2010, it has not deterred purchase efforts. It will be interesting to see how and when Skype’s new owners resolve the legal issues and how this situation might affect Skype’s usage by digital natives in the future.