Video Calls: Scourge; Mediocre Standard; World-Bender

It turned out that there was something terribly stressful about visual telephone interfaces that hadn’t been stressful at all about voice-only interfaces…Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her.

David Foster Wallace on video calls, Infinite Jest

This was written in June 2019.

The rest of the above excerpt is available here, and it is worth reading in its entirety. DFW is bearish on video calling for three reasons: stress, vanity, and Bitmoji-ization. The first two are self-explanatory to anyone that has gotten dressed up for a Skype interview and sighed with relief when the technology failed and a phone call had to suffice (and these problems are tractable with simple modifications). The third problem is a bit more complicated and far more difficult to predict.

Video calling stress is in large part related to the proliferation of choice between both communication mediums and video calling platforms. I Slacked Jeff the deck and we’re going to jump on a Zoom to talk it through, but he hasn’t responded yet…does anyone have his cell? Jeff is probably only logged in to Microsoft Teams and he’s stuck on the phone with Apple trying to reset his password so he can FaceTime his kids. The telegraph is gone and ham radios are mostly irrelevant, but smartphones have enabled a traffic jam of ways to communicate. Curation is needed: many would pay a bit more or deliberately buy from a brand that found out how a buyer uses their phone and preloaded only the apps needed (or helped a user delete unnecessary cruft-apps).

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