Video conferencing might end up changing the way we think about marriage–it can certainly change the way we construct our marriage vows.
The traditional vows about unconditional love–for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health–might need some tweaking if video calling makes long-distance relationships more popular and sustainable. Maybe we could try something like: whether the broadband connection is up or down, in high wifi signal or low, with a smartphone battery that’s full or empty.
Most of us are fewer than 20 years removed from a world in which going to work meant you couldn’t see your spouse. Now, with video conferencing apps like Skype available for free on our desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, and consistent mobile coverage across the world, it’s tough to find a place where you can’t chat face-to-face with your partner, whether that’s 15 minutes across town or all the way across the country.
This ubiquity is one reason for video conferencing’s impact on society through an increase in remote relationships.
Video Conferencing’s Impact on Society? Commuter Couples
You can’t actually get married over a video conferencing connection, unless you fit some very specific criteria or live outside the U.S., but once the big day is over, your online life together can thrive. The ease of connecting online via video chat is such that it might even be directly contributing to a rise in the number of couples who choose to live their daily lives apart.
These so-called “commuter couples” make up a sizeable portion of the 3.9 million Americans over the age of 18 who live apart from their spouse–that count also includes spouses who don’t really have a choice because they’re serving in the armed forces or serving time in jail. Back at the turn of the millennium, however, there were just 2.7 million such couples.
What the maturing of video conferencing over the past decade or so has given these virtual lovebirds is a way to look each other in the eyes every day of their lives, despite the distance. In an increasingly digital and global world where jobs require relocating–sometimes even to other countries–video conferencing can be an important asset for a marriage. And there’s a form of video conferencing for every situation and event in a marriage, from movie night to major milestones.
Video Calling Takes Many Forms
Video conferencing in a form we’d recognize today began in the 1970s as a business tool. It largely remained business-focused even after the internet became public domain in the 1990s, and didn’t get much traction outside the office until high-speed broadband connections and affordable webcams came into existence in the mid-2000s. Since then, and especially after smartphones exploded in popularity at the end of this century’s first decade, video conferencing has become a social tool that’s been adapted to suit just about every environment and situation.
That’s important when you’re trying to live out something as complex and ever-changing as a marriage. Here are a few examples of how video conferencing can be used in a relationship:
Sharing the internet together: Apps like Rabbit and Airtime let people share the same streaming media within a video call. Be it on-demand movies, live-streamed music festivals, or just funny YouTube videos, you don’t have to be in the same room anymore to experience the same entertainment. These apps can bring couples closer by reproducing the shared experience of watching media at the same time–and being able to see your partner’s reactions.
Being together in sickness: Video calling is becoming increasingly common as a link between doctors and patients, and patients and the outside world. It is being employed in hospitals to make real-time connections in sensitive areas such as neonatal wards, and in some cases an absent spouse can attend a doctor’s appointment by calling in via Skype.
Raising the kids together: Despite the common perception that any screen time is too much screen time for young kids, recent research has shown video conferencing engages young children in a way that just watching a screen doesn’t, and that they can tell the difference between a live video chat and passively streamed media like a movie. That means a parent should feel free to indulge their children in video calling sessions with their other parent and relatives.
Building trust together: No other digital medium is able to convey the wealth of information contained in our facial expressions, gestures, speech, and posture in real-time like video conferencing. If the key to a good marriage is communication, only a video call lets you get the whole message across.
The one missing ingredient in all this marital communication is touch, and developers are working on that, too. Researchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University are currently testing video conferencing gloves and clothes that are able to digitally convey the pressure of a touch.
That’s the last pin to fall before a long-distance relationship loses its distance, but even without it, technologies like altered, augmented, and virtual realities can create new methods and places for two people to meet.
Of course, even a combination of the highest-tech versions of each of these methods can’t perfectly recreate spending time together in person. But they do give couples greater freedom in how and where they live their lives together. Intimacy–and the idea of marriage itself–is no longer completely dependent on proximity.
And if a prolonged absence puts a strain on the relationship, video conferencing has the perfect solution: online marriage counseling.