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Skype and FaceTime were the stuff of science fiction not too long ago. Now we have video chat capabilities on all our phones but you don’t see people employing it in public spaces on any kind of regular basis. Why? Because video calls are neither fun nor practical.
It’s one of the easiest ways to titillate an already ravenous audiences of nerds (no shade, I’m right there with you nerds). There’s a human coming out of that cell phone watch? STFU, what’s next?
There was the iconic video call in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Creepy child actor, but the scene hit home and like so much of that movie, people eagerly anticipated the day such technology would become a reality.
The fascination goes as far back as 1889, with the arrival of Jules Verne’s prophetic short story “In the Year 2889.” His vision of the future included the “telephote,” a 19th century imagining of video chat that enabled “Mr. Smith” to see his hot slice of a wife “notwithstanding the distance that separated him from her.”
Verne hit on the reason why voice calls should be more popular than they are. You can see your slampiece naked while you sext. If doing a remote job interview, you can see the interviewer’s facial expressions to better assess how much of an idiot they think you are. It’s like being with the person but better because you don’t have to smell their B.O.
Despite this, video calls suck. They straight-up suck. Who the fuck wants to sext with their sexy buddy when they’ve got a quadruple chin?
Not to mention all the mystery is gone. There’s something comforting in knowing that if someone calls, you can be naked or quietly pooping and they will never know. “JK mom, that’s definitely not my bowel movement that you see.” With a regular phone call, you don’t have to choose between tilting down to see literal shit or panning up to see Chin Kingdom, population who-the-fuck-knows-because-there-are-so-many-fucking-chins.
What Verne and Kubrick never predicted was our return to writing as the primary form of communication. The telephone may have ousted the telegraph, but texting and email have brought back a love of the (albeit shortened) word.
Dr. Sally Winston of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland told Thrillist that one reason email and texting are becoming more and more preferable to phone calls is because of the special brand of anxiety that phone calls induce: “It’s something that can subject you to the bad judgements of someone else, and the core fear is becoming humiliated.”
That’s not melodramatic; that’s accurate.
“In a way, mobile photography has taken place of video chatting. If we didn’t have the internet in the state that it’s in now, video conferencing would be way more in use, because you wouldn’t constantly be looking at pictures of people on your Facebook feed.” – Phillip Sitbon
People want less stress, they don’t want to be put on the spot more often. While video calling does enable you to read facial cues – a critical part of conversation and socialization in general – it adds a layer of preparation that only increases phone-related anxiety.
Winston was speaking of regular phone calls but the logic is easily extended to video chat. It’s still a performance and you have less freedom in what you can do and look like during the conversation, driving the call-induced anxiety through the roof instead of easing it.
I called up my friend and wearable technology go-to, Intel innovations engineer Phillip Sitbon, to get his opinion.
Video calls, he tells me over a nice, old fashioned phone call, require that you halt your life to have an extended, face-to-face interaction.
“The convenience is actually not that great compared to voice with hands-free [capabilities] or texting, where you can send just a piece of communication without having to make an entire conversation,” he explains. “Often people don’t need video. If you just need to exchange information, words are enough.”
Oh, how right he was. During my conversation with the quite professional Sitbon, I was sitting on my bed, clipping my toenails and digging pus out from the corner of my big toenail. “I’ve amassed a pile of toenail clippings on my bed,” I tell him at the end of our conversation, “and you don’t have to see it.”
Still, Mr. Smith wants to see his long-distance side chick. But he doesn’t need video chat. Social media has made video chat far less relevant than science fiction expected, because it never predicted Snapchat or Instagram in quite the same eerily accurate fashion than it did video chat technology.
“In a way, mobile photography has taken place of video chatting,” Sitbon tells me. “If we didn’t have the internet in the state that it’s in now, video conferencing would be way more in use, because you wouldn’t constantly be looking at pictures of people on your Facebook feed.”
This form of image exchange allows for preparation in a lower-stress environment. You can edit and filter for hours until you send your main squeeze pics of your sexy butthole.
If the point of video chat is to keep people connected, we’re already there. It takes no time to stalk an ex’s entire romantic history. We know all the details we never cared to know in the first place about hundreds, even thousands, of people we’ve met once or twice. I know where friendly acquaintances from college are living and what they’re doing and I spoke to them maybe once in four years. We know when people have died and lost family. We know when enemies get married and friends get divorced. Video chat doesn’t add anything to what we already know, which is everything.
Still, never say never. I won’t say that video chat is doomed and will never be the go-to method for human interaction, lest I end up like this guy.