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Video Chat Reshapes Domestic Rituals

December 27, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
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December 21, 2011 by Julie Scelfo via NYTimes.com -- AFTER nightfall on Tuesday, the Darvick family of Birmingham, Mich., began their Hanukkah rituals, just as they had done for years.

Debra and Martin Darvick set out a tin menorah given to them by long-gone relatives. Their son, Elliot, 27, struck a match and lighted the first candle. And his sister, Emma, 24, joined in a prayer.

But the Darvicks celebrated this centuries-old tradition with a modern twist -- the family was in three different cities across the country, but connected by Skype.

"We call it Skypanukkah," Elliot said of the family's second year of using the service's video chat. "Being able to use Skype on a holiday allows me to basically build a memory with my family that I couldn't have otherwise."

Though Skype is now eight years old, the software -- and others like it, including Apple's FaceTime and Google chat -- has become a regular fixture in a growing number of American homes, providing new ways for families to stay connected in an age where generations are less likely to gather around the table on Sunday afternoons to share a meal.

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There are the familiar uses, of course -- nieces performing dance routines for their aunts, brothers showing off holiday decorations to cousins, and grandparents meeting new grandchildren, despite being separated by hundreds or thousands of miles.

Yet as Skype becomes a part of everyday life, far-flung families are opening birthday gifts together, reading bedtime stories and even providing brief moments of child care. And rather than just making video calls to catch up, people are using them to share experiences that would otherwise require a plane ticket.

With the proliferation of built-in cameras and microphones on computers and mobile devices, broadband connections and program refinements, an average of 300 million minutes of Skype video calls are made a day globally, an increase of about 900 percent from 2007, according to data provided by the company. Many more calls are made using other popular software programs, like FaceTime and Google chat.

During peak time, Sunday morning in the United States, 30 million people are logged into their Skype account, with half a million simultaneously making video calls, the company said.

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