Why Joel Stein is Wrong about Video…

Mr. Stein of Time recently wrote a post saying he dislikes video calls. Fortunately, I thinks he’s all wrong.

His main arguments are that you lose the ability to zone out without getting caught when you make video calls, you can no longer multitask, and you lose the ability to make “suicide faces” at your wife so she can rescue you from boring conversations. (“Honey!  I need you!” “Sorry, Joe.  My wife needs me.”)

First, I’ve seen plenty of people zone out during face-to-face conversations and look like they were interested. (Further questioning of these subjects was required to discover they faked awareness.)

As for multitasking, well, all the multiparty video software programs have both private and group chat functions that buzz away madly during meetings, and here at VSee we’ve seen the studies that say eye contact (looking right at the camera or screen) isn’t as important to us as just seeing the eyes and other body language.  We know there are emails being read, web pages browsed, and other IMs going off.  Maybe a little typing into Word.  Ironically, the one thing you can’t do is, well, make a phone call!

As long as you’re paying enough attention to the meeting or call to follow it and contribute, I don’t see how it’s different from the phone…except that it’s better.  People can garner more information about how a conversation is going, or a presentation, or whatever, from the body language of the other parties on a call–whether or not those parties are looking straight out of the screen—and adjust.  Wouldn’t that make calls less boring without offending the speakers?

He had a follow-up argument that implies people don’t want to interact with other people.  I don’t know about you, but as a person who telecommutes from Anaheim to the Bay Area, I get starved for a little human interaction.  Humans are emotional creatures and social animals.  We need interaction and to see and hear.  A sad thought experiment for Joel would be:  If he had a loved one in Haiti right now, would he prefer to talk to them on a phone, or through video?

Sheesh.  He mentions that only a third of Skype users even use the video and leads us to conclude it’s because video wasn’t wanted.  Doesn’t it seem silly to assume that’s the reason?  I find it more likely due to technical difficulties: Mom wasn’t sure how to set up the camera, the video was poor, or the user is just plain avoiding traditional phone companies.  (Hmm…shall I sign up with Vonage or just use my Skype account?  And what about Magic Jack?)

Anyway, as we all know, there’s so much more to video calls than just a call.  There’s the flow of other forms of media, which is more easily attained during a video call than a phone call.

There is also the emotional aspect.  One day, families may have a room, with a TV just like the ones Joel describes, where the video conference is left on all the time.  Family members will never have to “call”, and the region within the TV will become a part of our physical space and our daily lives where friends and families can simply choose to go to be with each other when they can’t be with each other.

Still, he may have something about that “suicide face” thing…

Comments ( 2 )
  • admin
    Chris says:

    What Stein gets correct is that people have a lot more choices in how to communicate and that when given that choice people will often gravitate to the mode that gives them the most control over their time, hence the rise of email and instant messaging. One could argue that the 34% of Skype-to-Skype calls that use video (up from zero when Skype started) indicates that when people do have a need for real-time communication they want something richer than just voice, so in the long term we may gravitate towards the two extremes of the spectrum, with no one wanting to waste their precious minutes on a call that does not include video.

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