Friday, May 18, 2007

Can Video Conferencing Parse Emotions?

An interesting burst of articles followed the recent announcements that everyone under the sun is expanding their video conferencing offerings/usage. The general question: how do we convey emotion without eye contact?

There is a certain amount of irony in “social” technologies and “social” media that leave us blind and monitor-bound. Personally, I find computer time among the least “social” of my activities, even if my instant messenger client is continually pleading for my attention. However, the idea of a remote and mobile workplace has its appeal; lower travel costs and time commitments, better access to resources, and a more flexible work environment can add up to the kind of performance boom that keeps everyone happy on both sides of the equation.

I’m guilty of hedging my bets in less-formal business emails with emoticons, lest a directive be taken too harshly. I’d never do it in a web presentation, though, no more than I’d say “lol” and “brb” – I have to hope that my faceless voice conveys all of the necessary information (luckily, I have years of radio experience). Would video conferencing solve the problem entirely, now that the technology isn’t quite as plagued by poor compression and lag? Will a video sales presentation ever compare to an in-person one? Is it all just a matter of habit and acclimation?

My experience as a filmmaker tells me that screens don’t hold the power that in-person presentations do; screens are passive communication, even if it’s your boss speaking and not some Hollywood star. Sometime soon I’ll explore the process of taking video conferencing from passive to active…it has a lot to do with staying on topic, keeping things as informal as possible, and remembering that short really is sweet. If we can successfully transform on-screen communication into a more active technology, video conferencing really will deliver on all of the cost-cutting, collaboration-increasing, flexibility-providing promises it holds.

Inspiration for this train of thought:,3800003161,39167192,00.htm

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