I’ve been thinking about video conferencing (and video phones, and all such similar devices).
We’ve been promised video phones pretty much since the invention of the television, but somehow they’ve never taken off. The argument is that the technology just isn’t quite ready, but I don’t believe it for a minute.
Here’s what I think two of the biggest problems are:
Have you ever spoken over the phone to someone who was in eyesight (in the same room, across the hall, sitting next to you on a park bench)?
Do you find it feels unnatural to actually look at each other?
It’s not natural for us to make eye contact when we’re on the phone, so even when we can make eye contact, we cannot.
With a videophone, however, we’re expected to make eye contact. That’s what it’s for, right?
Unfortunately, the focal point of the screen is not the focal point of the camera, and it is therefore impossible to both look at the person you are talking to, and see them as well. You either look at the screen, or the camera. This makes for a very unnatural conversation, because if you are looking at my face on your screen, your camera will capture you looking down, not at me. If you look at your camera, then I will see you looking at me, but you will not be able to see my face, because your eyes will not be on your screen.
Either scenario makes for a totally unnatural conversation, which leaves eye-to-eye videophones interesting to play with, but useless to really communicate with.
Anonymity and privacy
On the telephone, I can have an important business conversation in my underwear (or worse). If I do this with video, I’m into a whole new business ;-)
So, my conclusions go something like this:
1) Videoconferencing will never really takeoff until a videophone can be built where the focal point of the screen and camera are the same. When I look you in the eye, you’d better see me looking you in the eye. Perhaps something like the TelePromptR used in the broadcasting industry would work, or a tiny pinhole camera in the middle of the screen.
2) On some level, video will never completely replace the phone. People value their communications, but also their privacy.
Do you use video (such as a webcam) to communicate? In business? In the home? In your underwear?