See No Evil

Videophones have been predicted for just about as long as we’ve had phones. They’re one of those obvious extensions to existing technology that’s just never managed to really catch on, despite decades of prototypes and proofs of concept.

God blames cavemen for this. Well, he blames the part of us that’s still our inner caveman. We spent millions of years learning to communicate with a few grunts and a lot of hand waving and chest thumping, and we’ve spent a paltry few tens of thousands of years refining speech.

Now, I thought that the depth of body language and the shallowness of speech would have been the best argument in favor of videoconferencing but God told me that videophoning actually gets it wrong. It’s not just that the screens tend to be so small that you can’t make out much of the body language but that the two dimensionality of the images masks a lot of the most important cues. What really matters isn’t just things like the crossing of arms and looking each other in the eyes, but more subtle things like the pushing out of a lip or the angle of an elbow. Not to mention the equalizer effect that sometimes happens, when a pushy negotiator finds it hard to take a dominating position and still stay on camera.

So do we just need holographic systems to make video calling successful? God told me it would help, but then he said not to forget the value of smell in evaluating a business proposal. I’m still not sure if he was kidding.

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