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As technology and Internet bandwidth has made video-chatting a regular part of communication, it has proven a great way to get out of otherwise painful obligations. Since 2007, there has been a 900 percent increase in Skype video calls alone, The New York Times's Julie Scelfo notes in her feature on the spread of video chatting in domestic life. That doesn't even include other services like Apple's Face Time and Google Video Chat. With its proliferation, video chatting has evolved from a novel tech toy, into a real way to communicate. But in the examples Scelfo cites, unlike talking or Gchatting, Skyping can act as a virtual stand-in for spending time with people in our lives. And since spending time with people is often an unpleasant endeavor, video chats are a great way to feign quality time.  

No More Stressful Family Holidays "We call it Skypanukkah," Elliot Darvik told Scelfo. Rather than gather for 24-hour-a-day family time, the Darviks celebrate the holiday over video chat. It might feel like the family is all together. They lit candles, did the whole menorah-prayer song and dance. But after that chat box closed, family time was over. It's a win-win: Family time without family times. Sounds beautiful "I didn’t have to travel or worry about packing up the kids," explains Jessica Hunt, who like the Darviks, Skyped Christmas.  "It relieved a lot of stress."

Babysitting Without Changing Diapers Parents have taken to using Skype as a babysitting machine. Parents can read bed-time stories from afar, or even use it to distract kids. "It was so much better than plopping her in front of the TV," an absent father told Scelfo. But, let's be real. It's the fun part of childcare. "[Video chatting] has given him an excuse to be an absent father," one annoyed mother told Scelfo. "He can say, ‘Oh yeah, I saw her, she’s doing this and that,’ " the anonymous mother explained. "He hasn’t seen her in person since she was 3 weeks old."

Awkward Group Gatherings Made Easy People are even resorting to video chatting as a party replacement. Take Jamie Van Houton, who had her baby shower over Skype. "I had thought, ‘Oh, this will be fun, but it’s not the same as being there,’"  she said. "But it turned out to be even better." Of course it was: video chatting provides an escape from the cooing. Not to mention, there's no clean-up, set-up or moderating guests who don't get along. 

Dealing with Death the Virtual Way Skype makes confronting the death of a loved one an Internet activity. As Selia Mae Jackson died, her sister, unable to physically come visit, said goodbye to her over video chat. "We set it all up, and they were ready on their end, and voilà, we had picture and we had sound," Jerome Jackson, who set up Skype between his mom and her sister explains. “And I never will forget the moment because there were about 11 or 12 people gathered in my mother’s living room and kitchen, all kind of waiting for the moment. And I heard my mother say, ‘I see you Mae Mae!’ And tears just came to my eyes.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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