One-Fifth of Americans Do Video Calls or Video Chats

Studies find when older people go online, depression can be reduced and brain function improved. But only 42 percent of people over 65 are online.

More Americans are getting on board with video chat to communicate with friends and loved ones, thanks in part to new smartphone capabilities and Internet services such as Skype, Google Talk, and Apple iChat, a new study suggests.

According to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Project, almost a fifth of American adults – 19 percent – have tried video calling either online or via their cell phones. The Internet remains the most popular way to do so: about 23 percent have participated in this form of communication over the Internet using their computers, compared to seven percent who used their cell phones.

Although video chat does indeed make face-to-face chatting easier, it does require more attention from its users that other forms of communication, according to Kathryn Zickuhr, one of the authors of the report.

"Video chat – especially compared to text messaging, instant messaging and standard voice calling – requires a lot extra effort from the users," Zickuhr told TechNewsDaily. "You can't really multitask while you’re video chatting, your computer basically has to stay in one place and you may want to pay more attention to your appearance. It’s more demanding of your attention in ways other communication is not.”

Not surprisingly, however, young Internet users are considerably more likely to conduct video calls. Some 29 percent of the Internet users ages 18-29 have already participated in video calls or chats or teleconferences, compared with 15 percent of Internet users age 65 or older.

The study also revealed that video-calling online is especially appealing to upscale users. A third of Web surfers (34 percent) living in households earning $75,000 or above have participated in such calls or chats, compared with 18 percent of those earning less than $75,000.

Meanwhile, Urban Internet users (27 percent) and suburban users (23 percent) are significantly more likely than rural users (12 percent) to have participated in video communication. Men are also more likely than women to do the same (26 percent compared to 20 percent).

“People use video chat in various ways – from talking to long-distance family members, catching up with friends to talking to loved ones while traveling,” Zickuhr said. “However, we don’t know specific data about who they are talking to and why, we just know they are talking.”

Samantha Murphy
Samantha Murphy was a contributor to Live Science, covering the tech industry. She holds a degree in journalism and cinema studies from New York University.