Never Say Never

Why would anyone say that video chat will never take? That seems like the most absurd thing to say! In Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace thinks that this is the case. He gives three reasons for this being the case: stress, vanity and “a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech” (whatever that means).

I think that video chat will catch on and further, that it’s already on its way up! But let’s look at the first two reasons because the third is incomprehensible (if you have an idea, let me know).

DFW’s thinks video chatting is stressful because when you’re on the line with someone you can pick your nose, pick your teeth, make fun of the person on the line to a friend next to you, etc. whereas on a video call you cannot. The stress seems to come from the fact that you are now forced to focus on this screen and your undivided attention must be given to it. The problem with this train of thought is that we already do this in the real world. Sure, you can’t insult the other person without them noticing but you certainly can doodle, clip your nails and other things while talking to them.When having a conversation with someone, how many times do you find yourself checking your phone, watching tv, eating and doing things other than looking at the person’s face? We already don’t focus on people’s faces just because there are other things to do. The problem is that we are new to the technology. We’re older and feel the screen is something sacred. I’m sure the younger generation will be much more comfortable talking to people on screen.

As for vanity, I think the argument against DFW is in the same vein as the last. The screen, to the older generations, is something specials. Video chatting is so new and, in a sense, niche that we treat it as special. People are worried about how they are going to look on screen. We do this in our real life interactions as well and somehow we’ve continued having those. As the technology becomes more ubiquitous friends will chat with friends with out having to dress up. Love birds will probably still continue to get pretty because it’s what they do in the real world.

In any case, I think that DFW is incorrect in thinking that video chatting will not take off. It is already on it’s way up (look at numbers) and as the technology becomes more ubiquitous, it’s usage will match the may we have face to face interactions. I’m not saying that video chatting will take over voice calls. Voice communication certainly didn’t take over physical (or even written) communication. They will each have their own place in our society. However, it will be more common than he likes to make believe.

Further, as one last point, I like to point out that there is vanity in our voice conversations as well. People will not use their day-to-day dialect when they are being interviewed or are under the watchful eye of some authority. People will wear their normal clothes (or in my case pajamas and bed hair) with friends and suits and ties with their co-workers and bosses. Contexts matter.

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