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    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2008
    Here is an interesting .pdf copy of a typed letter on Haxtun Telephone Company letterhead dated 1958 in which the president of said company predicts cell phones, mobile video and the institution of DTMF touch-tones. Not particularly mind-blowing, but the last line is pretty priceless.

    There's also a connected Savings and Loan architectural treatise for some reason.
    • CommentAuthorbuzzorhowl
    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2008
    Well, I think we can rule out video phones as anything other than a novelty, but other than that the guy seems to have been pretty dead on. Interesting.
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008
    I'm totally using that last line in an article. And everything I write from now on.

    As far as videophones... it'll happen. Eventually.
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008 edited
    As far as videophones... it'll happen. Eventually.
    You know, no matter how I think it through, I don't think so. Which isn't to say I don't want videophones -- I just don't think we'll ever have pervasive, dedicated videophone boxes.

    Because even about half the people that want them don't want to use them.

    There's a degree of anonymity, ambiguity, and multi-tasking to non-visual communication. If I call, text, twitt, email, or write someone a letter, it doesn't matter what I'm wearing, whether I've showered this morning, if my house is clean, or who else is on the room. If I'm on the phone I can be doing twenty other things without someone asking "why aren't you paying attention to me" because I'm not looking at the vidscreen. I can send an email and browse whitechapel at the same time. In my pjs. All of those things, to varying degrees, become different (and often less productive) if I'm tethered to a vidscreen and camera.

    At the end of the day, the portion of the population that wants to sit still and have a face-to-face conversation with EVERYONE is very low. With family and close friends, I'd absolutely love it -- but with co-workers, customer service, telemarketers? Not so much. And, honestly, many of my close friends and family members would love it sometimes -- except when they're doing something else, or haven't dressed or showered, or anything else. Because how often, REALLY how often in your daily communication do you want or need to make a personal production or want a dedicated two-way with vid? Even nomad-me, with everyone I love scattered a million miles away, only have two or three people I really need to see. The type of communication that telephony and net provide is not the same communication as meeting in person, or sitting in the same room. Real-space (in real-time -- video messaging and time-shifted communication are different, but that has, again, more production than the immediacy of communication) can't be replicated with video, it can only be approximated with a loss of quality that's made more frustrating by the flaws.

    That said, I think we WILL move to video-linked-to-cell phones. Not so that people can look at each other, but so that people can show what they're talking about while they're calling. Not "look at me" technology, but "look through my eyes" technology. That's only a matter of time to pervasive tech, I figure.
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008
    I think that talking face-to-face with customer service and telemarketers will make THEM stop and think about the fact that there's another human being on the other end. Like Warren is fond of saying, it's hard to remember that there's someone else on the other end of the line (paraphrased). Sure, I can do a lot of different things on the interwub, but that's what it excels at--that's what it's for. Telephony is exclusively a person-to-person communication protocol. I hate talking on the phone because I don't get the feel of a person on the other end most of the time. I like the internet because I can project my own reading style and inflection onto another's words (which is why sarcasm doesn't work very well in print...) When I'm on the phone with someone, I can get the experience of having them on the line, but not enough that it's actually akin to talking to them, more at them. Furthermore, a lot of communication can be carried through body language and expression that can't be carried through the audio-only phone. It's like the old "nodding yes when you should be saying yes" thing.

    And I'm sure there's always the option of turning the video feed off...
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008 edited
    Dear Ariana,

    Maybe the solution is just to find a good way of making the video purely optional and not the default.
    I mean I can already use skype in a way where one person is audio only and the other is both audio and visual.
    Actually, skype even lets me be a/v while the other person types in the text window.

    I'm not saying it does it perfectly, or that it isn't potentially awkward, but perhaps the solution lies in there.
    I wonder if to some extent it is just a matter of people moving past finding it socially awkward to have the mismatch, and maybe that just takes time.

    Being able to see someone is really useful when you have language mismatches. If I don't speak the other person's language that well, suddenly body gestures become a lot more important. I'm not the only person I know who uses skype to chat with collaborative researchers overseas.

    Forgive my sloppiness here; I'm drugged up for a migraine and about to return to bed, but I thought I'd weigh in (or maybe that is WHY I think I have something to say here. hmm.)

    I'm with ya on the enormous appeal of 'look through my eyes' tech.

    Robotic affection,


    p.s. - Sorry rickiep00h. Your post wasn't there yet when I started mine. I am very slow today.
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008
    I wonder if to some extent it is just a matter of people moving past finding it socially awkward to have the mismatch, and maybe that just takes time.
    Absolutely, but now you're talking about the evolution of culture and society - not just technology. I mean, I could build a video phone right now, if I wanted one. Me and radio shack could have twenty of them ready by the end of the week. It's not like we haven't got the ability to do it well and immediately.

    But here's a question: do you give your collaborators lead time before you video phone them -- even just a head's up email -- or do you just call out of the blue? Because I think there's still the desire to _plan_ video communication more than there is with text or audio, at this point, and I don't see the trend dramatically shifting. At least not yet -- who knows? I'm just talking off, anyway. But vid still doesn't have the immediacy from thought to implementation that shooting off an email or picking up the phone has. And there's still some "what to do if they don't answer" to be figured out -- video answering machines aren't often discussed, even though there'd be little difference between that an attaching a vid to an email.
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008
    (FYI, for those of you that want a no-software-download alternative to Skype, there's
  1.  (3096.9)
    But here's a question: do you give your collaborators lead time before you video phone them -- even just a head's up email -- or do you just call out of the blue?

    If I were ever to use a videophone, which I doubt I'd ever want to do... yes. I generally plan phone calls, if I make them, which is rare, and much prefer written communication. At work, we're expected to answer the phone if it rings, any phone, whether it's yours or not, and I find this murders productivity, puts a stake through its heart and cuts off its head. At home, I screen all phone calls - I just find the telephone an incredibly intrusive technology unless managed.
    • CommentAuthorjona
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008
    Didn't they try this video phone thing here in the UK in the 80s ? I seem to remember them being on the market, but they died a death when people realised that there was little point having one if the person you were speaking to didn't.

    Immediacy is the salient word. We are now so used to instant communication - via text and E-mail - that we are constantly looking for a new buzz or faster way to yitter on endlessly about inconsequential things mostly. We want to feel important enough that we can be contacted every minute of the day. Video phones may be a step too far, in that people like the anonimity of the phone/e-mail. It is precisely this fact that stops us rushing to such technology, whether the capability is there or not.
    • CommentAuthorWakefield
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008 edited
    I think video communication might be used akin to Amazon's one-click buying option. If you want make a spontaneous vid call, you have the option. Sort of like how Myspace IM's client implemented Skype.

    The problem I see with video telephony, whether there's public demand for it or not, is getting some sort of consensus on the format.

    The telcos in the US are not standards-based and they are notoriously territorial. We're seeing this problem with video applications today. You're on, say, AT&T's 3G network and you want to spool a video to your buddy who's on Verizon's 3G network.

    Unfortunately, the telcos are using different apps with different standards and formats that don't recognize each other.
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008 edited
    oh unflattering migraine recovery
    will my vid response even work?

    Type next time I guess.
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008 edited
    But vid still doesn't have the immediacy from thought to implementation that shooting off an email or picking up the phone has.

    You know ... maybe that is part of the deal for me.
    Email and phone are very rarely something that I can do unplanned.
    I'm just very awkward.
    So maybe that translates into me not finding the lead up as much of a big deal as most people.

    I agree that there is a lot to be said for text:
    1. I find it much easier to reference and go back to.
    2. When language isn't an issue it is often actually clearer for the receiver then having to navigate my mumbling. (Really, nothing was helpful about my body language in the vid I made above. If anything it served to obfuscate because gestures and expressions simply resulting from my current physical pain can be too easily misinterpreted as something else.)
    3. It takes up very little space and is really easy to access. The reality is that - novelty aside - I don't think my friends are likely to find my current little video-mail experiment exactly awesome. No complaints received yet, but every time I send one I'm really aware that there can be extra steps to view my message when it isn't text-based, and these small little things can become annoying with time. For those people who are checking their mail in various remote access way, there can be a noticeable delay while my message downloads. I'm not saying this can never be fixed, but currently it is still an issue.

    Largely, my video experiment results are fairly mediocre so far.

    I'm certainly open to suggestions on how to make the format of my exchanges less annoying but still video based.
    Maybe I should be trying with audio for now.
    Video seems overly ambitious as a viable option right now.

    (I allow the possibility that it is simply doomed to fail as a serious option, as Ariana suggests. It is currently just something I thought I'd test out.)
    • CommentAuthorbuzzorhowl
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008
    Didn't they try this video phone thing here in the UK in the 80s ? I seem to remember them being on the market, but they died a death when people realised that there was little point having one if the person you were speaking to didn't.

    It's terrible that this is the example I can give, but the cast of The Real World Season 3 had access to a videophone. I can remember seeing them use it. This was in... what, 1994? So yeah, they've existed before and may be available for purchase right now, for all I know. Which I think proves Ariana's and my points.

    See also that section in Infinite Jest.
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008
    On my desktop, if I want to "call" someone and see their face, I just use Yahoo's IM client. It's easy. As soon as we get pervasive broadband on our Android (thank you, Google) cellphones, it'll be pretty much the same thing.

    Contacts -> Method of contact (text, instant text, photo, voice, video, combination of any) -> Go!
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2008
    williac - True. The direct contact chatty stuff is definitely getting there. I use a variety of IM type things for direct video chatting with a tiny handful of people and it is all good. But then we're talking about the sort of people that I would let see me first thing in the morning without being self conscious about it so the preparation thing falls away.

    I just don't seem to have fully worked it out yet for email replacement and message boards.... but that might just be a matter of me finding the right tools ... or just accepting that it isn't appropriate for all spaces.

    Not that I really know what I'm talking about; I am just thinking out loud.
    • CommentAuthorbiglig
    • CommentTimeJul 27th 2008
    I noticed them using a videophone on Emmerdale this week,which I thought was interesting, because real people don't use it so far as I can see. Might have been for a plot point, perhaps?

    Americans: Emmerdale is the third biggest soap opera in the UK, and second oldest. It's originally a rip-off of The Archers, which is a radio educational program about farming with soap elements to make people listen: but over time the farm bit has become increasingly irrelevant, and now it's just a soap opera set in rural Yorkshire. They famously counter the natural tendency of people to assume it must be slightly dull (because it's rural) by blowing shit up regularly.

    Back on-topic. I like having video calls with my work colleagues, but maybe because I only see them once a year so I tend to feel a bit isolated... but it's just a nice to have and the slightest difficulty in getting it to work makes it not worth the trouble.

    However, I am itching to find a use for the webcam in my eeePC.
  2.  (3096.18)
    It's interesting that the usual communications technology driver - porn - hasn't made much of a dent in this. Other than amateur vid-phone sex, it's not really happening. And even then, it's very much by-appointment.

    So I hear. Ahem. Onward...

    It seems to me that a lot of the pressure on the actual existance of vid-phones is that they are such a common trope in SF movies - a feeling of "it's the future dammit, we should have this!" (Of course in the SF writings which have vidphones, there's usually considerations of the shift in etiquette that would result.) And even the fanboys don't really use it much.

    I suspect Ariana is spot on to say the killer app is 'seeing what I see' instead of 'seeing me'.
  3.  (3096.19)
    Vidphones have been available for years, but they're awkward and cumbersome, and nobody gives a toss...

    I can see its applications in business, but as a personal tool day-to-day, nobody wants it. If you really want to see somebody and genuinely interact with them (with all that sensuous glory that can ensue), its generally not too much hassle. While it might be nice for a long distance couple and stuff, most people will make the call, or meet up. The middle ground just isnt effective or appealing for the general population, which is why webcams are generally fine, but a specific apparatus?

    There are a bunch of cellphones available with vidchat, but nobody I know has ever used it beyond "huhuhuhhu cool" with the person they're sitting beside.

    I'm still waiting on WiFi coverage to pick up so VOIP can take over from god damn cell providers and their charges, if it'll ever be allowed. I remember a while back when the EU declared it illegal for a county or city council to provide WiFi, basically because it reduces business profits, which doesnt bode well for that though...
    • CommentTimeJul 28th 2008
    I think the thing is that 99% of the time there's not much benefit that a video screen would have on a telephone conversation. I have done video-chat on Skype with my girlfriend, which is nice, but for most other situations there is just no reason why it would be required.

    That letter is quite interesting, especially the rather strange idea of everyone being assigned a telephone number when they are born. Imagine how crap that would be.