Tuesday, June 15, 2010
So the iPhone 4 was released last week, with subdued fanfare. Everything you would expect from a phone update was on display. Thinner! Flatter! 30% Less Fat! I'll spare you the "incremental-progress-disguised-as-a-revolutionary-product" rant, but suffice to say the new iPhone is a lot like the old iPhone. One major update however, is the addition of a front facing camera, which opens up the Pandora's box of videoconferencing. This is a novelty feature at best. Why? Quite simply, people don't want to see themselves or have other people see them.
I loathe talking on the phone, but I understand its merits. I understand the appeal of Skype, but think it's moronic for daily use (I'm talking to YOU, LK). It's a narcissist's wet dream, but not my cup of tea in any way/shape/form. Videoconferencing is another matter entirely, and doomed to fail for reasons David Foster Wallace describes in Infinite Jest far better than I ever could.
A phone conversation offers the "bilateral illusion of unilateral attention", meaning, you assume you have the undivided attention of the person you are speaking with, while at the same time you are free to surf the internet, pantomime the exchange with friends, or otherwise distract yourself from the boring conversation you are having. A videophone would truly require your undivided attention, at the risk of appearing aloof or rude. People like to feel important, and traditional phone conversations fulfill this illusion quite nicely.
In addition to requiring you to curb your desire to multi-task, a videophone would also amplify the vanity in people. As DFW describes, "good old Aural telephone calls could be fielded without makeup, toupee, surgical prostheses...even without clothes, if that rattled your saber." With videoconferencing, talking on the phone becomes a stressful event; one in which you are forced to come to terms with your own "shiny, pallid" self. In Infinite Jest, this experience leads to the creation of a line of "polybutylene-resin masks" of their best faces to wear during these stressful exchanges. Ultimately this evolved into contracting out beautiful models to carry out your conversations for you, before the technology fizzled out.
I doubt we'll get that to the "polybutylene mask" phase, but that's because people would just assume not use it at all. The fact that it's only available over wifi and only between other iPhones doesn't help matters either. In any case, you can be sure that the iPhone 5 will not be trumpeting the newest generation of videoconferencing.