In order to keep in touch with my family, I signed on to an e-mail account more than 11 years ago. I started using online messaging systems (aka Microsoft MSN, or Yahoo! Messenger) a few years later, still with the purpose of keeping in touch with my family and more recently, my friends. For a while there, I even wondered why my family would keep calling me over the phone (from the US, Mexico or Spain) if we could communicate over the Internet. Truth be told, after a few years, I have realized that I enjoy phone conversations much better.
This sort of random self-assessment is very much the result of a realization ... I am getting old!!! My nieces had cell phones before I did. They have MSN accounts since they were 13 years old. I still don't own an iPod and I'll confess that, up until I actually sat down and played with a digital camera, I was totally puzzled as to how I was supposed to download the pictures from my camera (don't worry, I now know that all I have to do is plug a USB cable to my laptop!).
It is surprising that I am so adept (and eager to adopt) new technologies in my own field of research, I am totally incompetent in others. I love Geographical Information Systems, GIS and I am quite happy to use systems modeling software such as Analytica, Stella or Extend. I feel confident using new qualitative or quantitative research software (Atlas.ti, or STATA) but I am still reluctant to adopt Skype.
I often wonder why I make these choices. From an economic standpoint, it probably doesn't make any sense that I do not use Skype, given the frequency of my long distance phone calls. But I believe that adopting new behavioral patterns is also dependent on comfort levels and particular consumer preferences.
Do we get the same degree of satisfaction/pleasure from talking with our loved ones online (on MSN or the more recent three-dimensional alternate world Second Life) or over the phone? I would have to go with the phone.
Taking this reflection one step further, that's perhaps one of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoy going out for brunch with my good friends (like I did with H just recently to Rhizome). I could have chatted with him over email or even on the phone. But we do enjoy going out (we are both brunch lovers and really appreciate good food -- what do they call it? we are foodies). I doubt we'd have the same good experience if we did most of our "hanging out" online.
I keep a really busy social schedule because I enjoy my friends company, something I don't think an online world would give me. L and I often go work at a cute coffee shop on Main Street. I could work at home or the office, but I enjoy her presence, in real life. My Sunday nights are usually movie nights with J. I could just as easily pop a movie in my laptop but I enjoy the post-movie discussion. There is a lot to be said for enjoying the physical presence of loved ones. And technology can't really replace it, no matter what. Even over the phone, you can feel your loved ones closer to you than using webcam, I think.