Video And The Death Of Dialog


I was reading a trivia article the other day about the excellent movie Sex, Lies, & Videotape when a comment by the director, Stephen Soderbergh, caught my eye. The quote, from this article talks about how people use video as a way to distance ourselves from events. Soderbergh used it as a metaphor in a movie made in 1989. In today’s society, I think video is having this kind of impact on our careers and our discourse in a much bigger way.

Writing It Down In Pictures

People have become huge consumers of video. YouTube gets massive amounts of traffic. Devices have video recording capabilities built in. It’s not uncommon to see a GoPro camera attached to anything and everything and see people posting videos online of things that happen.

My son is a huge fan of videos about watching other people play video games. He’ll watch hours of video of someone playing a game and narrating the experience. When I tell him that he’s capable of playing the game himself he just tells me, “It’s not as fun that way Dad.” I, too, have noticed that a lot of things that would normally have been written down are narrated as videos today.

A great example of this is the Stuck in Traffic video blog series from J Wolfgang Goerlich (@JWGoerlich). These videos are great examples of things that would have been blog posts just a few years ago but have become videos that were narrated and posted to a channel for people to consume. This is also the way that podcasts have risen to dominate the attention of people looking to consume information. But video requires a bit more attention as compared to audio-only discussions.

One of the big issues I see with videos is that they are not living, breathing documents. They exist as they are created with no way to modify the content short of destroying it and recreating it. If I write a blog post and make a factual error, it’s very easy to fix that issue. I can write a note about how I made a mistake and someone pointed it out. Or, in some cases, I can write a whole new post about the error and how I figured out what was wrong.

But video is different. I find all too often that people make factual errors in videos by either misstating something or being plain mistaken. Usually these errors aren’t corrected in the process because the subject is unaware of things. But instead of being able to correct it with a follow up or a postscript, most video producers are forced to cover the incorrect comment with a large annotation in the video window pointing out that they were wrong and force the viewer to pay attention to the comment and not the spoken word or written word in the original video.

The lack of ability to correct problems and create living documents is a huge one for video creators. Errors can’t be easily fixed. On platforms like YouTube you can’t even upload a new video in place of the old one without destroying all of your views and comments. It makes mea culpas a huge pain. There’s no process to fix things unless you catch them before posting.

On Broadcast With No Mic

The other thing that bothers me the most about video is actually very similar to  the reason why I hate keynotes. The whole process of broadcasting a message without soliciting feedback is irritating at best. With a blog post, you can have comments and discussions and even more posts about subjects that go on to create commentary. Videos are static. You can’t start watching one and them come back to it later like you can with a blog post. Of course videos can be paused, but the vast majority of video creators do their best to minimize the amount of dead air in a video.

It’s also very difficult to create discussion with videos. Instead of being able to address points one at a time and create dialog there, you are forced to address or refute points in a series with no stopping. That makes it easy to overlook things without realizing that you missed a great idea or you could have summed things up with a very easy point somewhere else.

What’s missing is the ability to let conversations develop. If you think of Slack and email as the ultimate form of conversation, video is the ultimate form of one-sided discussion. Television, movies, and other video sources are designed to deliver content with no regard for feedback going the other direction. That is the key that is missing to make video be something beyond a simple broadcast medium.

Tom’s Take

Video is a tool designed to get your views across with minimal input from viewers. It took me a while to realize this until I heard my son “closing” a video with the standard “like, share, and subscribe” type of sign off. There wasn’t any mention of leaving comments or creating a video reply. It was really at that point that a I realized that video blogs and channels are the pinnacle of insulating us from the audience. All a creator needs to do it post videos and turn off comments and you can almost guarantee that they can continue creating messages that people will hear but never be able to respond to.

1 thought on “Video And The Death Of Dialog

  1. First, thank you for listing me as a great example of a terrible idea. 🙂

    I found my videos actually get higher levels of interaction than my blog posts did. The commentary is often on sites like Twitter or LinkedIn. Even, gasp, sometimes in person. I am having a lot more discussions about ideas than ever before, and I think that is because of video’s power to connect with people.

    That said, I completely agree that fact checking and updating is an issue. There is no rewind and re-record, given my pace. And I do make a number of mistakes in my improvised riffs. So videos are good for discussions, however, not so good for conveying specifics and facts.

    Appreciated the article, and see you online!

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