American in Spain

Where are all the video emails?

December 30, 2010

thumbWith the release of the iPhone 4, and similar competitors, in 2010, video phone calls are just now starting to become more commonplace, although they are often less comfortable or convenient than regular voice calls. Webcam video chatting has been gaining in popularity over the last decade, but it has still been a bit cumbersome, usually requiring a lot of pre-communication communication to decide on a time for the call.

I had one of the very first computer webcams, the Connectix QuickCam, back in 1995. I took it with me to college and actually video chatted with my parents a few times from my college dorm room. At the time, the webcam software and propaganda was very excited about the idea of "video email", and that, in the very near future, we'd all be sending short video recordings to each other like on Star Trek. But then again, everyone thought we'd be surfing the web in 3D with VRML by the end of the millennium, too. The iPhone 4, and other front-facing camera phones, have finally lowered the hassle level of sending a video email, a requisite for any technology taking off. Bandwidth speeds and video compression algorithms are now good enough that a 30 second video clip can be downloaded in less than 20 seconds.

Even with all this level of ease, I still don't think video emails will become standard any time soon. Google's increasingly popular Google Voice service is handy specifically because it is moving in the opposite direction, translating spoken voice messages into text. Text is the most efficient way we receive communication, since most people can read faster than they can talk. It's also much easier to edit and perfect just what you want to say in text than with video (e.g. "Darn, that's not what I meant. Let's record another take!")

One might think that if the literacy rate continues to drop, voice and video emails might become more popular, but one look at social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook confirms that a lack of literacy doesn't seem to be stopping anyone.

A Case Study

For a couple weeks now, I've been working on getting Nora to say "Good morning". She doesn't yet say it perfectly and requires some prodding in the morning to say it, but she's made some progress. Earlier in the week, I thought that if I could pair "good morning" with "grandma", a word she knows well (she says "meh-mah"), it might be nice to record a little video to send to my mother for her to see when she woke up. It only took about four takes, and then another thirty minutes for her to stop saying "Good morning, Grandma!" Not surprisingly, we had a video response in our inbox the next morning. This time in our response, we tried saying "Good morning, grandpa!" as well, but to limited success. It was a fun experiment this week, but our vocabulary has run out, I think.

Perhaps one day we will be recording messages back and forth all day long, but I suspect that people will still be typing with their fingers and scrolling through text on screens at the end of the twenty-first century.