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Why Video? Why Not Video?

Embracing video. The ever-insightful Dave Michels has been writing about this subject for some time now, interjecting his experience, perspective, and even frustration with his own leap into video communications and the resistance of others.

In his No Jitter piece titled "Embrace Video", Dave discusses his own experience pushing conversations into the video realm, along with the problems he experienced in attempting to bring others along. At the conclusion of the post, he answers the biggest question of them all--why video.

One of the problems we have in answering this question is that we all tend to confuse technological innovations with communications methods. In part, this is due to our living in a product-centric industry, where the folks who make the products dominate the conversation in one way or another. In this world, video communications is a relatively new innovation.

And video communications is indeed a new technology in the context of human history. But as Dave notes near the end of his piece, what video simulates is the oldest communications method in history. Before there were emails, telegraphs, and even smoke signals, people communicated face to face. All video communications does is facilitate such communications in geographically dispersed locations.

As Dave says, from a purely human perspective, audio-only communications is a much newer innovation and is significantly more artificial. The telephone forces us to communicate with people that we cannot see, which is counter to millions of years of human evolution where the only mode of communication was face to face.

The other new mode of communications is the written word. Over the span of human history, it still could be considered bleeding edge. But that is another post.

So if we are programmed to communicate face to face, and if, as Mr. Michels says, bandwidth is cheap and all of our devices are video capable, why is video adoption still so slow?

I remember hearing an executive from Intel saying in the mid-1990s that every computer sold by the end of the decade would be video-enabled. This statement absolutely blew my mind. As I pondered the impact of what he was saying, I envisioned the world changing.

Well, it hasn't. We are still doing audio conference calls. So while we have answered the question of "Why video?", I will take a moment to answer the question, "Why NOT video," since businesses are not flocking to video and are sticking to audio-only communications in droves.

While there are many drivers, here are a few I think are having the most impact:

The depersonalization of communications--This too could be an entire post, but the trend as we plow through the Internet Age is towards less personal means of communication. Businesses BEG their customers to not come into a branch or to call them. And if you do have to call them, you spend your entire long wait on hold hearing about how easy it is to go to the Web and not call them.

We have learned to use email as a way to try to avoid having to interact with people, especially when conflict is involved. It is so much easier just to fire off an email than it is to confront someone.

The problem is, this is not an effective way to deal with conflict and often just creates more conflict. We all get this, yet we all participate in this silly game. Things would get resolved so much easier if folks would just sit down together in a room and hash things out. Or if that were not possible, a video interaction would be the next best thing.

The anonymity of communications--As we move towards a more virtual world, we seem to be gravitating to communications methods where we are more anonymous. We post anonymous posts on message boards and blog comments (even here), we adopt screen names, and we prefer to hide behind these things rather than have someone actually see us. Or see where we work. Or what we are wearing.

And beyond the metaphysical analysis of our identity in the modern era, there are practical reasons people don't want to be seen. I have seen situations where branch office members didn't want to be on video calls, because they would have to concern themselves with their appearance. And of course we have teleworkers who don't shave or shower until lunch and work on the couch.

Then there are those that don't want to be seen because they are "multitasking" and aren't really paying 100% attention. That is a nice way to say they aren't even in the room for half of the call.

As a consultant, you actually do learn a lot from your clients if you are paying attention. I have a client who insists on video interactions. Even if I am working at home, I make sure I have my technical ducks in a row and I maintain a professional appearance both in myself and the environment folks see. I also give my full attention during the entire call.

I have noticed a difference in how I approach calls with him because they are video interactions. I am more prepared, more professional (in a good way), and more focused.

And here's a biggie: while it is technically feasible, I would never join a video call from my car. Driving requires your full attention. And a meeting should require your full attention as well. Splitting your attention between the two is bad for everyone involved. I don't want people I interact with to treat our planned interactions so lightly that they think they can call me from their car, or the airport, or Starbucks. (Of course there are exceptions where you have to do what you have to do.)

I think anyone in a place of leadership would see value in these attributes and should think of these things when looking at a video collaboration strategy. A key is to look beyond the traditional benefits and to look for related problem areas. Don't have a suitable place for a video call at home? Then maybe your home is not a suitable place for you to work, for the same reasons why you can't do a video call. Worried about having to dress up for a video call? Maybe we have a problem with professionalism on a daily basis. Uncomfortable about being seen? Really?

Technical limitations--Even though every device now is video capable, how many of them actually do video well? One of the things the industry has learned is that quality is paramount.

To recreate an environment where users interact just as they do in person, you have to nail the illusion that they are in the same place. This takes a quality camera, good lighting, and HD sound--among other things--to complete the illusion. Very few users have access to such a setup, though the price points for accomplishing this are a fraction of what they were even a few years ago. Businesses spend billions of dollars a year on software to help their folks work better together, yet seem to neglect this area. If you are truly embracing video, you will figure out how to address these problems and get it right.

I sometimes wonder whether we are moving so fast that we are undoing millions of years of inherited human experience. I think, though, that the answer lies in one of Dave's closing thoughts: "Transitioning from audio to video is not a matter of adopting something new, but returning to something old and natural."

So we are moving back to the old, to the past, to what we have been programmed for millions of years to do--we are just moving at dial-up speeds.

The Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC) is an international organization of independent information and communication technology (ICT) professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

Don't miss the Society of Communications Technology Consultants annual conference, open to members and non-members of the SCTC. The event will feature essential technical and logistical updates, networking with peers from around the world and fun in the sun - San Diego, 29 Sep to 2 Oct. More at

Don't miss the Society of Communications Technology Consultants annual conference, open to members and non-members of the SCTC. The event will feature essential technical and logistical updates, networking with peers from around the world and fun in the sun - San Diego, 29 Sep to 2 Oct. More at