Everyone seems to be talking about Nick Carr’s essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“.
I have an answer I strongly believe in (later – I promise!), but what troubles me more is a related question I hear often – “Is Video Conferencing Making Us Less Communicative?“.
The essential theme in Nick’s essay, in case you haven’t read it or his new book (which the essay is built on), is that technologies change us, often in ways we can neither anticipate nor control. Therefore, we should be careful in adopting all new technologies, especially if they can truly change the way we live our lives.
I LOVE technology, as I have already admitted here, but I have no problem with technology criticism, which probably has existed since the first technology (“Is The Wheel Making Us Lazier?”). One of the most famous tech critics I know, who is a very interesting writer and someone who inspired Nick Carr, is Neil Postman, author of “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology“.
Postman claims that new technologies are not critiqued enough, because we live in a state of “Technopoly”, where technology is defecated and becomes THE culture, instead of offering tools for creating culture or at most play a central role in the culture.
Psychological Barriers? Give Me a Break!
Postman’s criticism is quite a brain-teaser, but as I said, I have a problem with people who – based on Postman’s views – reject technology without asking the right questions and getting the right answers. In this post, I will obviously discuss video conferencing as I find myself, time after time, amazed when people who put it down because “it has powerful psychological barriers“.
I have already discussed here the way video conferencing is different than our existing means of communication, for better and worse. And I agree that video brings with it a level of intimacy that all of our communication means currently lack, but isn’t it a BIG advantage?!
Oddly enough people feel they should “prepare” for a video conference, while they are much more “natural” “just talking” on the phone. Others resent the fact that on a video call the other party can see them – follow their gaze, determine if they are focused, interpret their emotions, etc. (something that would happen in a REAL LIFE meeting). Most people claim that they are simply “not comfortable” with video conferencing because they do not know how to behave in front of the camera.
Video Conferencing (in)Etiquette.
Nick Carr says it best – the Net is already becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through our eyes and ears into our minds. Just like the advantages of having immediate access (via Google, or whatever search engine you’re using) to such an incredibly rich wealth of information is obvious, so are the advantages of using it to enhance our communication possibilities.
Most People Simply Don’t Know How to Have a Video Conference
Neil Postman suggested three questions one should ask himself when confronted with a new technology:
- What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?
- Whose problem is it actually?
- If there is a legitimate problem here that is solved by the technology, what other problems will be created by my using this technology?
With Video conferencing, the problem it aims to solve is quite clear (and so are the benefits). It’s quite obvious that it is our problem (as in most of society), and so the benefits will also be ours. Regarding the problems it creates, I believe they are all just a matter of familiarity.
Fredric Paul, editor-in-chief of bMighty.com says that most people simply don’t know how to have a video conference. Everyone knows how to have an in-person meeting, some of us know how to attend an audio conference, but video conferencing is a whole different ballgame.
Video conferencing ups the engagement level of its participants – you can’t “hide”, you can’t mute and multitask, you can’t yawn too much or fall asleep on your desk, you have to be more conscious of your body language. In fact, you have to conduct yourself almost like you’re in the same room with those people…
Baby-to-baby video call via Skype. (CC)
Familiarity will take time. Video has already begun creeping into our hearts and minds via the media and the big names jumping in with video for our desktop . And as Fredric Paul observed, video eventually becomes “quite addictive”, and “once companies start using it, they find more and more uses for it and usage levels go up”.
So, if you are taking your first steps in the wonderful world of video conferencing, here are a few tips on the how in “how to have a video conference”:
- Connect a few minutes before the scheduled time to adjust your camera and sound levels.
- Avoid eating, drinking, gum-chewing, etc.
- Disable any potential distracting applications.
- Keep your gaze at the screen at all times.
- Don’t multi-task while you’re in a video conference.
To sum it up, I would say: treat a video conference as any other in-person meeting, except that you have to accept that you rely on tools and so you need to prepare them just like you prepare yourself.
Video Conference Would Just Become Part of Our Culture
The Internet has altered our mental habits, worries Nick Carr. Visual communication will alter our communication habits, but only for the better. And while Nick is haunted by a Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: a Space Oddyssey“, where people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be (SPOILER ALERT!) a machine in the end, I believe that relying on video conferencing infrastructures to conduct most of our communications would not flatten, but broaden our hearts, minds and human interactions.
In “The Third Wave“, Alvin Toffler predicts a time of stability in terms of culture and technology in the future where the latest wave of change has enhanced our lives and sorted itself out in a way in which we can live in peace with both culture and technology. I’d guess that there I wouldn’t need to explain anything about video conferencing – it would just become part of our culture, just like Google.