Now, Mrs. Code of Contact is a great at multi-tasking – she is known to have two IM conversations going on while she is talking on the phone and watching TV (Happy Birthday dear). So sending her an IM is the best way for me to get her attention. She gets the IM while she does her routine Round Robin conversation game. I don’t interrupt or disconnect her from all her streams of data just so I can be allocated a degree of priority, which she eventually does, albeit with some reluctance.
The real problem happens when she’s on the phone WITHOUT a laptop in front of her, and I need her attention. My best hope is to kick-start some sort of video conversation – write a note, learn sign language or try to mime.
In our effort to reach telepresence, we seem to have neglected the problem of tele-absence – the need of the outside world to contact a person whose senses are engaged elsewhere.
The age-old way to contact someone who is already engaged is to use call waiting services, where the person to be reached receives an annoying beep to indicate he is in a relatively popular time in his life and people are actually waiting for his attention. In video calls, this may translate to an on screen message.
How would we translate this into real life? If I want to grab someone’s attention at a cocktail party, I tap their shoulder. I think the tap on the shoulder translates well to contacting someone who’s audio and visual inputs are otherwise occupied, but most people will interpret it as a demand for immediate attention, instead of just a call-waiting signal. Instead of a tap, a light touch on the shoulder may indicate a lesser sense of urgency, and should work well until complete immersion virtual reality becomes possbile.
Currently, instant messaging someone on a cellular phone is very inconvenient. He has to remove the phone from his ear to look at the screen. However, health authorities are issuing recommendations not to hold the phone close to the ear (or body), and Bluetooth earpieces are becoming cheaper and more popular (in contradiction?), so the phone screen is freed up for use of instant messaging. In video calls, the problem is different – incoming instant messages can be received, but it is awkward to type during a video conversation (and not very polite). Predefined responses can help (“yes”, “no”, “not likely”, “ask again later” – standard magic 8-ball stuff) but I suspect this is more a matter of fashion and etiquette than a real problem.
If two people are talking next to me, I can drop in on the conversation and add my two cents at any time. If two people are talking on the phone and one of them is next to me, I have to get his attention first, ask him to move to speakerphone mode so I can participate in the conversation, he will have to ask his conversation partner, and then – and only then – it will become an ad-hoc conference. In that manner, it is easier to invade a video phone call: the camera sees an area, and stepping into the camera’s field of vision automatically includes me in the conversation. In a way, video conversations de-personalize the call.
Cellular calls are more personalized: I’m not calling someone’s home or office, I’m calling that person, wherever he is. On a video call, I am no longer calling a person; I’m connecting to the location the person occupies right now, and in a way, anyone who is in that location at that time. To put it in tele-absence terms, Moves him away from his current surrounding and focuses his attention on me, but other people in the area may decide to engage me as well – in a way, the tele-absence backfires. This is, again, more a matter of etiquette and fashion, but I imagine vendors of video endpoints should expect ad-hoc video conferences to become popular.
“Who’s there? It’s Doogy? Yo, Doogy, join the video call! Whazzzzzzup?!”