Old Technology Gets a New Boost

Somewhere back in the early 2000’s, right around the time that Apple came out with video chat, the use of desktop video conferencing took off. Or, I should say, tried to take off.

I was commanded by my leadership at the time to procure a camera (laptops didn’t come equipped with cameras like they do now) and to begin having meetings in video form.

And I did. For a while.

It was a new toy and we all played with it and then, we got bored. Suddenly no one was logged in. Cameras were quietly disconnected and stowed in a drawer. And we went back to the usual phone call, chat or email way of communicating.

Fast forward to this week. My new leadership has commanded that I procure a camera (because our company security demands that the one on my laptop be disabled) and sign up for a brand spanking new desktop video conferencing service.

Per the long winded training I was required to complete, using this “new” technology will promote productivity (oh really? When we’re wasting precious minutes in meetings fiddling with cameras and asking “can you see me ok?”), enhances cost savings (because I just spent $100 of the company’s money to buy the “approved” camera) and reduces carbon emissions (except when I’m taking antibiotics).

The Good Man and I have been debating why video conferencing doesn’t catch on. While it’s nice to see the other person in a conversation, it’s not natural. Everyone just feels a little awkward.

Last evening, I was watching an edition of BBC World News and as they went to field reporters in many far flung countries, it became quite clear that they were using Skype or something similar to do these televised reports. No more camera and a camera operator.

As I watched these reporters, I began to realize why video conferencing is awkward. No one knows what to do with their eyes. Instead of face to face, eye to eye conversations, you get a lot of shifty eyes, and shifty eyes make for uncomfortable conversations.

The most natural fix for this is to look the camera square in the eye.

However, that’s natural for the people on the other end, for the speaker, it feels weird to speak to a lens. You are inclined to look at the screen to see the person you are talking to. That’s how humans communicate.

So you get this instead:

And then, of course, there are the multitaskers. Not only are they not looking in the eye of the camera, but they are also not looking at the screen where the other image is located.

It’s something like this:

And this:

And this:


Well, whether I think this is a good idea or not, I’ve been commanded to video conference, both in my one to one sessions with my boss and in our staff meetings.

And so I will.

This, however, severely limits my ability to wake up fifteen minutes before my 8am staff meetings, shamble down the hall, fire up my home machine and take the meeting on the phone with frazzled hair, still in my nightgown, while eating breakfast.

Damn you UK-based Boss Man! : shakes fists toward London :

(I’m reminded of an episode of the Jetsons where Judy had a videophone mask for those very bad hair days. I need that.)

Image is a screen grab from a YouTube clip of the Jetsons


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  • Ephraim F. Moya


    The lens they use makes it look like you’re nose-to-nose with the person you’re looking at. They should use longer lenses.

    Actually, I think what they really need is multiple cameras with experienced cameramen. Plus a script. Plus acting lessons. Plus a director. Plus a really fast film editor. etc.

    El Viejo

    • Karen Fayeth

      VIejo – No need to be sorry, I totally agree. In addition to being way too close up, those lenses have a bit of a fisheye distortion. Very odd.

  • Lucky

    I just did a job interview on Skype a couple of weeks ago. Worst decision ever. Especially since I decided they wouldn’t notice if I was looking at my resume/notes at the same time up on my screen. Yeah, they noticed. Needless to say, no call back!

    • Karen Fayeth

      Lucky – Before I got this gig, I had an interview where they put me in a conference room with this video conference machine thing with a really tiny screen. Just me and the machine and suddenly the screen popped up and there was this face. Really freaked me out.

      As I interviewed, I couldn’t help my eyes wandering out the large windows in the conference room. It was so…weird.

      I guess all that is by way of saying…I get you.

      And interviewing by Skype? That seems weird to me.

      Then again, I had to hire an employee in another region after only speaking to her by phone.

      I say again…weird.

  • sclaus

    Love, love, loved this one, cuz! The pictures were *hilarious*, soooo true. I’ve stopped using my home system because it’s so uncomfortable…the screens at work are huge so it’s better. The best experience I had was at Dreamworks, we’d conference with Aardman (Wallace And Gromit) in the UK. It was an entire wall-o’-video that finished off the room like a looking glass. I came in late the first day, walked in and someone on the screen said, “‘Allo Skot!” I was like…am I supposed to answer? Can they hear me? How do they know my name? Can they see into my SOUL?” Hee hee…

    • Karen Fayeth

      That’s right, you do a lot of video conferencing at work, don’t you?

      Had the first VC with the Boss yesterday. As expected, I didn’t know where to put my eyes. And we spent a half hour fiddling with the cameras and he had to restart his machine….

      Once we got it working, though, it was pretty cool!

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