While I was at Cisco Live, I heard a lot about video. In fact, “video is the new voice” was the center square on my John Chambers Keynote Bingo card. With the advances that Cisco has been making with the various Jabber clients across all platforms, Cisco really wants to drive home the idea that customers want to use video in every aspect of their life. This may even be borne out when you think about all the social networks that have been adding video capabilities, such as Facebook or Skype. Then there’s the new launch of AirTime from the guys that brought you Napster. AirTime is a social network that is built entirely around video and how you can interact with complete strangers that share your interests.
I started thinking about video and the involvement that it has in everyone’s life today. It seems that everything has a video-capable camera now. Mobile phones, tablets, and laptops come standard with them. They are built into desktop monitors and all-in-one computers. It seems that video has become ubiquitous. So too have the programs that we use to display video. I can remember all the pain and difficulty of trying to setup programs like AIM and Yahoo! Messenger to work with a webcam not all that long ago. Now we have Skype and Facetime and Google+ Hangouts. On the business side we have things like Cisco Jabber for Telepresence (formerly Movi) and Webex. I even have a dedicated video endpoint on my desk. However, the more and more I thought about it, the more that I realized that I hardly used video in my everyday life. I’ve done maybe two Facetime calls with my family since my wife and I purchased Facetime-capable devices last year. My Skype calls never involve video components. My Webex sessions always have video features muted. Even my EX90 gathers dust most of the time unless it gets dialed to test a larger Telepresence unit. If video is so great, why does it feel so neglected?
For me, the key came in an article about AirTime. In the press conference, the founders talked about how social media today consists of “asynchronous communications”. We leave messages on walls and timelines. We get email or instant messages when people try to communicate with us that sit there, beckoning to us to respond. In some cases, we even have voicemail messages or transcriptions thereof that call to our attention. The AirTime folks claim that this isn’t a natural method of communication and that video is how we really want to talk to people. Nuances and body language, not text and typing. That’s a good a noble goal, but when I thought about how many Facetime devices are out there and how many people I knew with the capability that weren’t really using it, something didn’t add up. Why does everyone have access to video and yet not want to use it? Why do we prefer to stick to things like Twitter timelines or instant messages via your favorite service?
I think it’s because people today have Video Attention Deficit Disorder (VADD). People don’t like using video because it forces them to focus. Now that all my communications can happen without direct dependence on someone else, I find my attention drifting to other things. I can fire off emails or tweets aimed at people I want to communicate with and go on about my other tasks without waiting for an answer. Think about how easy it is to just say something via instant message versus waiting for a response in real time. Twitter doesn’t really have awkward silence during a conversation. Twitter doesn’t require me to maintain eye contact with the person I’m talking to, and that’s when I can even figure out if I’m supposed to be looking at the camera or the eyes of the projected video image. When I’m on a video camera, I have to worry about how I look and what I’m doing when I’m not talking to someone. Every time I watch a Google+ hangout that consists of more than two or three people, I often see people not directly speaking having wandering attention spans. They look around the room for something to grab their attention or get distracted by other things. That’s why asynchronous communication is so appealing. I can concentrate on my message and not on the way it’s delivered. In real-time conversations, I often find myself subconsciously thinking about things like making eye contact or concentrating on the discussion instead of letting my focus drift elsewhere. Sometimes I even miss things because I’m more focused on paying attention than what I should be paying attention to. Video conversation is much the same way. Add in the fact that most conversation takes place on a computer that provides significant distraction and you can see why video is not an easy thing for people like me.
I’ve wanted to have a video phone ever since I first watched Blade Runner. The idea that I can see the person that I’m talking to while I converse them was so far out back then that I couldn’t wait for the future. Now, that future is here and I find myself neglecting that amazing technology in favor of things like typing out emails and tweets. I’d much rather spend my time concentrating on the message and not the presentation. Video calling is a hassle because I can’t hide anymore. For those that don’t like personal interaction, video is just as bad and being there. While I don’t deny that video will eventually win out because of all the extra communication nuances that it provides, I doubt that it will be anytime soon. I figure it will take another generation of kids growing up with video calling being ubiquitous and commonplace for it to see any real traction. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of using a mobile phone not tied to a landline was pretty far fetched. The generation prior to mine still has issues with fully utilizing those types of devices. My generation uses them as if they’d always been around. I figure my kids will one day make fun of me when they try to call me on their fancy video phone and their dad answers with video muted or throws a coat over the camera. If they really want to talk to me, they can always just email me. That’s about all the attention I can spare.