iSight: is the novelty gone? (Or do I have a face for text?). A few months ago, I got the Apple iSight
for use with the Mac OS X iChat A/V instant messaging client.
Initially, it was great–I was able to have video chats with people
across the ocean and across the country.
But then something happened. After an initial flurry of video use,
everyone seemed to slide back toward text-only messaging, reserving
video for things like talking with the kids from a road trip, or for
conversations that they'd rather not have archived in text.
And now, I hardly ever iChat by video. Partially, that's because the
potential audience for video conferencing–there are only three people
on my “buddy list” who have video chat capabilities (four if you
count my wife, but I can walk downstairs and see her). Most of the
rest don't even have access to a PC video camera. And when I'm at
the corporate office, I can't chat with home because the firewall
blocks the protocol used by iChat A/V.
I suspect there's something else behind the flameout of video instant
messaging–people just don't want to see each other through video
cameras that much. Some of us look better, frankly, as text.
This is a phenomenon I've seen before. When I was using NetMeeting
to video conference with people who worked for me at FTP, it seemed like the only
other people using NetMeeting were playing “I'll show you mine if
you show me yours.” Yes, the cult of broadband was somewhat smaller
in 1999, but even then, there was something…impolite about PC video
conferencing.Then there's the issue of resolution. The iSight is
a far sight better than some earlier personal video conferencing
systems, but it's still a tight-cropped, somewhat slushy
experience–like looking at someone through a speakeasy window after
taking codeine on an empty stomach. While you get visual cues, many
people find they exaggerate their body language like Buster Keaton
when using video chat to make it translate through such a small
portal. Or maybe they do that because they're watching themselves on
camera at the same time as they're chatting out of
So, is it that people aren't ready to show themselves online? Or are
we just not ready to see them?