"We don't want a camera in our kitchen." These words came from the parents of the president of a major videoconferencing company. Since they live in different cities, the president had offered to install one of his company's videoconferencing systems in his parents' kitchen or living room so they could see their grandchildren instead of only talking to them on the phone. The executive saw this as a great way for the grandkids to keep in touch, but his parents did not feel comfortable with the idea. They simply preferred phone conversations.
They are not alone. Although the technology has improved substantially in the past decade, videoconferencing's acceptance into daily life has been slow. "Videoconferencing is always a strange, new experience for people," says Gordon Daugherty, senior vice president of global marketing and strategy at VCon Inc., "but society is getting used to it."
In the business world, for example, videoconferencing is an increasingly accepted mode of communication, especially in national and multinational companies. Similarly, distance education via videoconferencing is commonplace, both in academic and corporate environments.
Beyond these areas of acceptance, however, videoconferencing is not widely used. Phone calls and e-mail messages make up the majority of an individual's daily contacts — and most people like that just fine. Costs and technological factors aside, most people don't feel the need for a face-to-face presence with every communication.
When the telephone was introduced more than a hundred years ago, the public had similar misgivings. Holding an electronic handset to one's ear and speaking to the quiet voice inside was an odd and perhaps frightening experience. In only a few years, however, the mystification had worn away and the telephone became a normal communication tool.
In videoconferencing, these same cultural uncertainties are present. As a technology, videoconferencing is entering its adolescence; it will likely be years before videoconferencing is as normal as telephone conversations.
The videoconferencing industry does not expect the technology to become part of the daily routine anytime soon. In fact, most industry executives believe that residential videoconferencing is still at least a decade away. The popularity of streaming video and Web cams, though, along with the continual growth of videoconferencing in business and education, will help pave the way for more widespread acceptance of the medium.