Why Videophones Won’t Catch On

How many times have you rung someone specifically to lie to them? A boss, a lover, someone in your family?

It’s difficult enough faking a convincing hacking cough and the air of having TB over a voice-only phone, imagine the increase in difficulty over a videophone.

Humans are programmed to recognise and search other’s faces for a myriad of visual cues. Most of this processing happens entirely unconsciously. But we just know when someone’s lying to us when we can see their face.

True, it’s possible to hear duplicity in someone’s voice alone but you’ve removed a whole layer of possible pointers. Imagine a world of videophones where every facial tic is open to scrutiny.

You may think this sounds great. And it is, if you’re not doing the lying. But we all lie. A lot of the lying we do is to protect the other person’s feelings. As my mrs. pointed out, that may be one of the reasons texting has caught on: it’s even easier to lie via text than a voice call.

Of course, videophones will have niche usage. Lovers will inevitably use them, for phone sex and calling each other fluffy bunny and crying a lot when separated. Hey – that’s love! But I wonder if there’ll be a cutoff-point in future relationships where you phone your snugglebums only to have her answer in voice mode rather than full video… the ‘Dear John’ text can’t be too long coming when that happens. If I was a videophone company, I might think of offering a special ‘Lovers’ Tariff’ where you get reduced costs for 2am videocalls but the contract is only for six months. Or is that just me being cynical?

Evil bosses will love videophones. Since you’re the boss, you can force your employees to answer you in video mode and then you can inspect their trembling, sweating faces for any mendacity. As a mere lackey, you should consider your videophone a one-to-one CCTV rather than a device to ease your communication.

That’s where I see us using videophones in the future: with the people we love desperately and the people we’re terribly scared of. The rest of our communication, mates, acquaintances, all the average bullshit chit-chat, we’ll do via text or plain voice calls.

So think about the implications when you apply for a new job and one of the “perks” is a full-video mobile phone…