“I believe that the “newness” of new technology, its capacity to dazzle us, is always in some sense the product of discourses surrounding it” (Gunning 43). Tom Gunning asserts this in his essay Re-Newing Old Technologies; saying that any sort of wonder we feel from a new technology is ultimately short lived by the individual because once the initial mass appeal is gone, the individual’s interest fades as well. I would argue that Skype counters this argument and retains its uncanny quality even 13 years after its release.
In late 2003, Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström revolutionized how, and at what cost, people were able to communicate by creating Skype. Friis and Zennström had previously created the music sharing application Kazaa, which garnered much controversy because it allowed users to illegally, share and download copyrighted music. Due to this controversy, Friis and Zennström sold Kazaa and made Skype.
People were initially unsure of Skype’s credibility because of the creator’s history with Kazaa but once people began using it, it became “The hottest viral marketing phenomenon since Hotmail, according to Tim Draper” (PRNewswire). Skype was, when it first came out, essentially a phone service for your computer that was free and easy to use; a no brainer for those who were remotely technologically savvy. Whether or not people trusted the creators or not quickly became irrelevant because Internet based audio communication quickly became a hot topic.
“Nothing has yet replaced the ritual of picking up the phone and dialing a number to have a conversation, and it’s unlikely that anything ever will replace voice communication the way that email has erased hand written letters. However, [Skype] does provide possibilities for making the calling process more flexible, and most importantly, more affordable.” (Dowler)
Skype’s next move was to introduce its video chat service which is what, I believe, allows Skype to maintain its wondrous effects after all this time. Never before had we been able to look at someone across the world and speak with them in real time. People could see their loved ones that they may have previously had to wait months or even years to see. I think in the back of our minds, when we experience this feeling of reunion or connection when talking to someone over a long distance, we attribute these intense emotions to Skype.
When Skype was first released, people were astonished by this new technology that turned their computer into a phone that they could use for free. Years later, people were astonished by the technology that turned their computer into a digital recreation of a face-to-face conversation with someone they know. The humanitarian aspect of the service that Skype provides is largely the reason it counteracts Gunning’s assertion that a technologies wondrous quality is short lived.