Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Operations Features
Nicholas Wyman
As the pandemic continues to affect millions of jobs, getting people into apprenticeships has never been more vital
Fred Schenkelberg
Beware the type III error
Jose Luis Alvarez
CEOs should sharpen their most important strategy execution tool
Andrew Peterson
Small manufacturers want robots with more human-like dexterity and self-control
Aarti Gumaledar
Looking at how firms responded to the pandemic reveals a new, more effective supply chain frontier

More Features

Operations News
Interfacial launches highly filled, proprietary polymer masterbatches
Provides synchronization, compliance, traceability, and transparency within processes
Contactless sensors measure rotating shafts in industrial benchtop and test and measurement applications
Freedom platform connects to any industrial asset to provide automated intelligence related to asset availability, utilization, and continuous improvement
Updates improve insights for field service and equipment service operations
Provides improved thermal stability for stored materials, risk mitigation advantages, and processes that are documented and repeatable
This book is a tool for improvement and benchmarking
Automated system processes castable metallographic samples for specialty material manufacturers
Real-time data collection and custom solutions for any size shop, machine type, or brand

More News

Norm Friesen

Operations

Four Weird Things That Happen When You Videoconference

Feeling watched? Welcome to the new normal.

Published: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 - 11:02

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces many U.S. colleges and universities to move their courses online, connecting online via video is now having its moment.

Family, friends, neighbors, and even TV talk-show hosts are now meeting and broadcasting from home. Meanwhile, Microsoft, Google, and Zoom are struggling to meet the demand for their videoconferencing services.

People have long noticed, however, that some peculiar things happen in videoconferencing. A magazine mentioned its “bizarre intimacy.” Jaron Lanier, who is considered the father of virtual reality, once remarked that it “seems precisely configured to confound” nonverbal communication.

As an educational technology researcher, I have explored these and other subtle but strange elements of videoconferencing. I do this through phenomenology, the study of lived and embodied experience.

I seek to understand why certain issues arise when technology is introduced to educational settings and to suggest ways to deal with them.

Here are four odd things that happen when you’re engaged in a videoconference.

1. Eye contact is lacking

First, and probably most obvious, meeting by video interferes with eye contact. This is due to a simple technical limitation: There’s no way to put the camera and the display screen in the same spot. When you look at the camera on your device, you give the impression you’re looking someone in the eye. However, when you look at their eyes on screen, you appear to be looking away.

Phenomenology and psychology both emphasize the importance and complexity of eye contact.

“In eye contact you not only observe the eyes of the other person,” observes author and philosophy professor Beata Stawarska, but this other person is also “attending to your attention while you are attending to hers.”

This extends to multiple levels of awareness, as philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty observes: “I look at him. He sees that I look at him. I see that he sees it. He sees that I see that he sees it.” Merleau-Ponty adds that as a result, “there are no longer two consciousnesses” in a moment of locked eye contact, “but two mutually enfolding glances.”

For Merleau-Ponty, these kinds of experiences are a part of what he calls our embodied reversibility: I see, hear, and experience others as they see, hear, and experience me.

2. Looking awry

Here’s a warning a pair of researchers gave about making a video guest presentation in a classroom: “Even if... you are not ‘on,’ you are on-screen, and probably larger than life-size. If you surreptitiously pick your nose, chances are that everyone can see you doing it.”

Sitting in front of a webcam and computer, the guest-presenter sees a room full of students. But the students see a talking head on a projection screen, showing every blemish or imperfection. Instead of sitting or facing one another reciprocally, “face to face,” we find ourselves looking up, down or sideways at the sometimes much-larger-than-life image of those we see and speak with online.

3. Feeling watched

Without overt eye contact and embodied reciprocity, people who videoconference can sometimes feel silently scrutinized or surveilled. A person may worry: Exactly how does the unblinking camera eye show me to others?

“Though we may pretend to be looking at another person when we FaceTime or Zoom,” journalist Madeleine Aggeler observes, “really we’re just looking at ourselves—fussing with our hair, subtly adjusting our facial expressions, trying to find the most flattering angle at which to hold our phones.” Videoconferencing can be a bit like the distracting or enervating experience of talking while constantly glancing at ourselves in a mirror.

4. Squelching voices

The long-lived tagline of the Verizon network, “Can you hear me now?” is a question associated with technology. Face to face, we are able to monitor our speaking as a result of our own vocal projection and the acoustic environment. And we do this based on the assumption of acoustic reversibility: that others hear the world as we do.

Online, this is not necessarily the case. Our voices might break up as they are compressed and transmitted, a noise in the background might overtake us, or our mic might simply be set to mute. By its very nature, sound, unlike vision, is relatively undirected. Face to face, it is enveloping and shared. Its disruption and interruption online can be as jarring as speaking with someone who refuses to make eye contact.

A new normal

Despite the odd ways that communication takes place in a videoconference, as a society, we’re about to get more accustomed to this mode of communication. There are many websites full of tips on how to make the most of our videoconferencing experience.

Among other things, these tips advise us to place the camera at eye level to appear naturally positioned, to use a clean, well-lit space to be clearly visible and to wear a headset to maximize audio quality. But no matter what we do to have a smooth videoconference experience, video will lack the “mutual enfolding” of the senses that, as Merleau-Ponty knew, comes with meeting in the flesh.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Discuss

About The Author

Norm Friesen’s picture

Norm Friesen

Norm Friesen is a professor of educational technology at Boise State University.